INSIDER'S PICK: 2013 THIBAUT-JANISSON BLANC DE BLANC 'CUVEE d'ETAT' EXTRA BRUT VIRGINIA SPARKLING WINE
With New Year's Eve approaching it is of course imperative we pour something sparkling and festive for our last Insider's Pick of 2016. And what would be better than the newest release from Virginia's finest sparkling wine maker. Thibaut-Janisson are specialists and their orange labeled NV bottling is one of the most easily identified bottles in stores and restaurants across the area (even more so than that more famous yellowish orange label Champagne). In certain higher quality vintages they pull some of the best fruit (not enough to affect the quality of the regular bottling) to do a little something special in an effort to see how far they can push the quality. 2013 provided just such an opportunity, and they took Chardonnay from an area vineyard, one of the oldest parcels in Virginia, and created this stunner.
Being an Extra Brut puts this in the driest category of sparkling wines, even drier than Brut. For most wines this would be very difficult to do and achieve balance, as without the bit of body and added fruit the small amount of residual sugar would bring to the palate it would come across much more astringent and shrill. The older Chardonnay vines used here provide juice with a richer natural weight and texture, enabling them to push the dryness down without sacrificing balance and enjoyability. Brilliantly crisp and fresh apple and pear aromas and an appealing fine bubble in the glass are immediate reasons to celebrate, but the palate is where this wine really excels. Great weight and round leesy fruit give plenty of texture to support the racy intense acidity and crisp bubbles that show lots of intensity and length. While this level of quality can still only be done in smaller batches in certain years, it is very encouraging to see sparkling wine from Virginia that is every bit as good as those made in California of a similar price. Less than 100 cases made, so enjoy it while you can.
The strength of quality from the Loire continues to grow every year, and we're so happy that our selection is getting fatter and fatter. One of the best aspects of the increasing quality and quantities we're getting is the breadth of styles that are appearing. For a long time there was a fairly narrow range a Chinon or Bourgueil would take, the only differences between them being how well they were made. Now you are seeing more approachable, even forward-drinking wines of great quality, top drawer bottlings that CAN age in the cellar but don't NEED it. Philippe Alliet has made a growing reputation for just that type of wine, even with organic practices and aggressively low yields in the vineyards that usually produce dark and intensely tannic wines that can require a decade or more to crack.
Opaque and almost vividly purple in the glass, with an unfiltered appearance that could almost be mistaken for a tank or barrel sample, and an aroma of cherry skins and crunchy red fruits that are classic Loire Cabernet Franc. The mouthfeel is predictably rich, but surprisingly soft on the tannins, almost grapey but without the sweetness. There is nothing harsh about it at all except for maybe the lingering dry and forresty finish, and even that is marginal at best. Gulpable and easy to enjoy, rich enough to hold up to a hearty savory roast, this is another great 'comfort food' wine to keep on hand for chilly Winter nights ahead.
With the first big blast of cold weather hitting this week, it's a good time to feature a red that will help you steel your nerves and your core against the temperatures outside. But as we always do here, this isn't just a big wine for the sake of being big, it also made with a story behind it and a sense of place and purpose. Tablas Creek was founded nearly 30 years ago as a collaboration between the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf and the Haas family who import their wines to the United States. The families spent years creating the winery before they ever produced their first wines, finding a site that best mirrored the conditions found at Beaucastel, and then the long process of bringing cuttings over from France to be planted here. In fact, their ongoing vine nursery program is almost as important to Tablas Creek as the wine itself, as many vineyards across the country proudly state their Rhone varieties come from the 'Beaucastel Clone' that Tablas Creek has propagated. The Patelin line of wines are the value wines for Tablas (relatively speaking), and are built from vineyards around Paso Robles that their vine cuttings have helped to establish. While the ratios can vary from vintage Syrah and Grenache are the dominant varieties with Mourvedre and Counoise accompanying in the background.
The 2013 version of the Patelin Red is dominated by a healthy dose of Syrah (nearly 50%) and the first sniff is mostly the dark black fruits that Syrah shows off from warmer climates. As it opens up the spice and slightly meaty tones from the other varieties start to show through, but for the aromas the Syrah is main stage. On the palate the other grapes show through more, with the darker tannins of the Mourvedre and the softened edges of the Grenache, and even a slight hint of tart gamey meats from the small splash of Counoise (because that's all it really needs to have an impact). This is a wine for comfort foods like a hearty stew or a pot roast, something made simply but with quality ingredients and effort, perfect for warming you up after a day outside.
Sometimes a grape variety you've never heard of is EXACTLY what you need to break out of your palate routine/rut. And, as always, Italy is just loaded to the brim with ancient local gems that have little exposure to the outside world except for travelers. The odd sounding Frappato grape is a mainstay of the southeastern end of Sicily, focused mainly around the city of Vittoria. It has been a bit of a forgotten grape in comparison to the critical success of Nerello Mascalese in Etna and the popular success of Nero d'Avola from the rest of the island. Relative to many other Italian reds it tends to be a lot more fruit forward, almost juicy, with a profile similar to many of the Puglian wines. But the polish and natural class gives the variety a lot higher quality ceiling, and we are starting to see more and more remarkable bottlings like this appear with greater frequency.
The first sniff will draw in many fans of Zinfandel with its warm and spicy red fruit aromas, not sweet or candied in any way, and definitely no signs of heat that the bigger Zins can carry (this is poised nicely at a restrained 13%abv). As it opens the aroma gains some of the darker, blacker fruits and some anise and pepper, fascinatingly changing every time the glass is swirled. On the palate there is no sign of extraction or sweetness, lots of juicy red fruits but back by dark yet very fine tannins that really pull out the black fruits and peppery tones through the finish. We recommended this over Thanksgiving for an off-beat 'catch all' type wine, as the juicy side works with a wide range of cuisine, but it shines at its best with hearty red sauces.
New vintage of a big favorite from the last year+ when we were first introduced to this label. An offshoot from one of the better small outfits along the Santa Cruz Mountains (hint: you will be able to figure out who by looking for the same colored foils in the Pinot and Zin sections), this label acts as a value brand should they have access to extra fruit that may become available. Contracts get broken, yields are larger than expected, and sometimes good opportunities come about to make something nicer than usual on the cheap. And it is rare to find anything with an AVA as exclusive as this under $20 from anywhere in California, so we like showing off something distinctive like this whenever we can.
For those that had the 2012, there are definite vintage differences. Nothing to make one better/worse than the other, just the unique variety that the environment provides to make wine ever-changing and exciting. The cool climate character of the mountains still comes through with some meaty notes in the aroma, but the warmer 2013 vintage brings out more of the red and black fruits and hints of sweeter cocoa. The 2012 was almost a gamey dead ringer for a Crozes-Hermitage from the Northern Rhone. On the palate there is more richness and a juicier and saturated mouthfeel, definitely a more Californian kind of texture, but the meaty side always rides close beside the dark fruit, and the cool climate acidity provides a lingering tartness on the finish. While some could debate which vintage was 'better' for their palate, there is NO debate about just how great of a deal this is.
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!