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.
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.
Over the decades, wine importers have constantly tried to be ahead of the curve and find great producers to import before they get 'hot' and 'noticed'. Smart importers with strong palates and instincts will find them and champion them, and can even become trendsetters. Californian importer Kermit Lynch famously did just this in the 1980s helping to save the image of Beaujolais worldwide. His early stable of producers (called the 'Gang Of Four') as a group bucked the trend of over-fertilization and manipulating the grapes and wines, and are considered the early touchstone of what has become the 'Natural' wine movement that is prevalent across the world. In Beaujolais they are legends and passed their influence and knowledge to countless other wineries around them. Marcel Lapiere was influential in helping the Chanudet family establish Chateau Cambon in the late 1990s and their organic philosophy before his passing, and their recent climb to success. Well before their success in the press a local importer began working with them, so we have been privileged to work with them often in the past.
A deeper color than often found in a 'basic' Beaujolais, the dark cherry color, is reflected by the cherry fruit in the nose, tempered by cherry skin and even citrusy tartness. The palate is classic Beaujolais with light savory fruit and loads of zip and energy, vibrant cherry and strawberry flavors all over the place. This is the quality level that actually can survive for more than a few years with plenty of evolution potential, but is just so approachable and delicious to drink right away you will be hard pressed to leave it alone for very long. A great match for simple comfort foods that don't want a wine with lots of heft, light stews or charcuterie.
Wine making in Washington's Columbia Valley has always had a bit of a 'Wild West' rebellious aspect to it. Being so remote in terms of major population areas, it hasn't had the crush of tourism compared to places like Napa and many of the major European regions. The land has also remained relatively inexpensive, especially for those looking to start vineyards that may be a bit more off the well beaten and established path. Perfect conditions to draw new and experimental aspiring winemakers with dreams of starting their own winery and blazing a new trail. Bergevin Lane was started in 2002 as part of that movement in the early 200s and has gained lots of acclaim with their single site/single varietal wines. Their 'Linen' series is built as a value oriented line of wines, with the red blend being an evolving combination of the wines in their single vineyard program. The blend is always based on the Bordeaux varietals with a dash of Syrah, but the ratios change from year to year. For this vintage the dominant varietals are Petit Verdot and Malbec, usually used as background grapes but put front and center this vintage.
Deep and inky color in the glass as is expected for the majority of Washington State wines, with a core of black fruit aromas, currants, and a touch of oaky spice. The Verdot and Malbec definitely show their dominance by the dark pencil lead and roasted plum notes that show through as the wine opens up. In the mouth the fruit is equally dark on the palate but not nearly as tannic and tough, with some polish to the tannins and richness to the flavors through the dusty finish. Bold and intense and, if you are a fan of the style, delivers a genuine value for both dining and enjoying on its own.
As much as we would like to say it isn't so, the days of inexpensive white Burgundy from addresses like Meursault or Montrachet are long gone. Too much demand in the world for the wines from the Cote de Beaune, not enough land to make enough of it. Still plenty of quality to be found, for certain, but the word 'value' is rarely thrown around. If you go South to the Macon, however, genuine bargains can still be found if you know where to look. Outside of Pouilly-Fuisse wines here have been largely constructed by big cooperatives buying and blending fruit. In recent years more 'grower Maconnais' have emerged with small families and individuals looking to make more distinctive wines. Quality is vastly improved, but the cost increase is marginal since the wines still haven't gained the international fervor. Fingers crossed it stays that way for a while.
The style in the Macon tends to be a warmer, more immediate and forward fruit than their northern neighbors, and there is a hint of some tropical tones behind the classic citrus zest and lemon curd aromas. The palate is nine and round that helps to soften the underlying acidity, but the subtle complexity shows through absent the presence of aggressive oak or malolactic butteriness. The detail of the small producer lets the flavors of their vineyards show through more distinctly; this is 'their Macon', not 'just another Macon'. Lots of quenching wet stones and zest on the finish give it great freshness that make it extremely compelling sip after sip, and priced to make it easy getting your Burgundy fix in whenever you wish.
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!