This recent arrival and new (to us) producer was a big hit on our annual Thanksgiving wine list, so we wanted to get it in front of more eyes for the second part of the holiday season. With the endless parade of Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough, it's also nice to know there's more than one wine they can do really well. Whether you talk about it from Alsace or Italy, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the exact same grape, just built with different mindsets. Grigio usually refers to the Italian mode of picking the grapes earlier and making a lighter, fresher style that can be more 'basic' at the inexpensive price point, but can be more interesting than people give credit to it when done correctly. Gris is usually of the Alsatian style, allowing the grapes to hang longer before harvest to the point where the skins can take on a grey or pinkish tint. This makes for a richer, unctuous texture and ripe honeyed melon aromas even in the driest examples; the very best versions can thrive with rich red meat dishes like Osso Buco or roast lamb shoulder, able to handle the fats and savory spices without being sugary or floral. While this doesn't quite live at that extreme a level, it absolutely stands as a wine that works with richer everyday dishes in general. Lots of peach, honeycomb and melon skin to the nose that gets more citrusy as it opens up, juicy palate yet surprisingly fresh and clean with no sign of any sweetness, and even a touch of skin tannin to the dry but quenching finish. A great Chardonnay alternative for those that want body without the oaky/buttery accompaniment.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2021 ANDREW MURRAY VINEYARDS SYRAH 'TOUS LES JOURS' SANTA YNEZ VALLEY (Vinous91points)-$20.99
New vintage of an old favorite, a producer we've known since the earlier days of the Rhone Rangers/ Hospice du Rhone events out in California. We also love when we can knock down a few misconceptions about wine reputations, in this case the one of Syrah being a heavy or oversized variety. A lot of that has come from when Syrah is grown in the warmer climates of the world, Australia especially, which encourages faster and more intense ripening along with less acidity, lending itself towards bigger fruit character and more alcohol. It also makes for easier farming for the grower (generally less disease/environmental issues) so you tend to find it easier to make more volume and value oriented wines in this style. Cooler climates invite more savory notes into the fruit, even bacon or wild game, and while they can still be big and intense it isn't from extreme extraction. The cooler climate Syrah can also have a very silky velvety tannin similar to Pinot Noir but with bolder flavors for the price point (a lot of 'inexpensive' Pinot is goosed with Syrah to fill in their otherwise thin body). For the price point this has everything you could want from this style of Syrah, approachable and complex without a lot of oak or weight getting in the way. Snappy raspberry and black cherry nose with little notes of black pepper, anise and dusty cocoa shifting through. The red fruits definitely pop but there's no sweetness or heat to them at all. The palate is more savory than expected with more of the gamey notes in with the black fruits, and a fine dusty tannin to the finish that even has a snap of acidity that gets some tart fruit skin notes in at the last. Very food friendly without the weight or aggressive tannins. so work it in all winter long.
This is the time of year that Beaujolais is at the forefront of wine drinker's consciousness. Today is Beaujolais Nouveau Day, so there is plenty of excitement for that. But we always like to remind people of the REAL Beaujolais, the Beaujolais that is great all year round, and can actually maintain and age in the bottle for several years or more in the bottle with ease. Importer Kermit Lynch gained considerable fame in the 1980s bringing over several of the most influential producers in the region (the 'Gang of Four') that set the standard for all wineries since then from the great Crus of the region. Along with his top level producers Kermit also need a great 'everyday' wine, someone that followed the same standards of quality as the others (single domaine, native yeasts, minimal/no SO2, older organically farmed vineyards) but could do so at a more reasonable price. Domaine Dupeuble joined the KL stable in the late 1980s, but has existed since the early 1500s in the very southern end of the Beaujolais region (actually closer to the suburbs of Lyon than the Crus of Brouilly and Morgon). This is always THE textbook example of what good classic Beaujolais should be, outclassing the character of even the Cru bottlings of the more mass produced brands. Color and consistency of a basic Bourgogne Pinot Noir, the nose is all violets, rose petals, dried raspberry and dark cherry skins, completely absent of bubble gum aromas. The palate shows off the unfiltered nature by giving the texture some dusty weight, but also has minimal tannins to allow the clean lip-smacking red fruits and light peppery notes show through. The perfect lunch time wine with cold cuts and lightly gamey meats all year round, but of course a start at Thanksgiving with pretty much everything you can throw on the table at it.
To help boost the mood for the impending holiday season, we're featuring a wine from our recent Thanksgiving Wines email, to give you a chance to taste one of our recommendations for yourself ahead of the Big Meal. Valpolicella in and of itself is a great choice, one of the great everyday food reds of the Veneto region. The 'Ripasso' designation helps to take it up a notch, combining the freshness of Valpolicella with the famous dried grape wine of the region, Amarone. When the raisiny grapes are being pressed to make Amarone, the winemaker has to be more gentle than usual to avoid breaking the seeds that can add unwanted bitterness. This leaves a lot of untapped flavor in those pressings, which can be unlocked by steeping the pressings in regular Valpolicella wine (which has gone through the fermentation process while the Amarone grapes were drying out). The bump in character is immediately noticeable, but at only a small fraction of a price increase. Deep mahogany in color, with lots of dark cherry and raspberry fruit on the nose and some dusty cocoa, rich with a bit of savory poking through. The palate has great weight with just a touch of raisiny grip to the tannins, mostly plush and velvety that gets lots of the raspberry tones across the tongue, but no sense of sweetness to it at all, even a hint of tartness to the finish. A bit fleshier than many wines on the Thanksgiving list we sent out, but the relative silkiness of texture in with the richness of the fruit won't overpower any other dishes at the table.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2022 STOLPMAN VINEYARDS 'LA CUADRILLA' SANTA BARBARA COUNTY (Vinous 92points) $25.99
New vintage of an old favorite, and though the blend and the label change from vintage to vintage it remains one of the most consistent values for Rhone varietal blends coming out of California. Stolpman Vineyards is one of the very few wineries to employ their vineyard staff year round, not only insuring the high quality of work with their vines, but allowing the families to have consistent work and stable living situations. The vineyard manager went so far as to begin a program of assigning workers small vineyard blocks, or Cuadra, in addition to their regular work to immerse themselves in learning vineyard management for themselves. In 2009 Stolpman began bottling wine from these parcels to make La Cuadrilla (now at least 10% of the winery's yearly production), and the profit from this wine goes back to the workers. As Stolpman is renowned for their Syrah, that grape makes up the majority of the wine each vintage, but the blends vary depending on the success in each cuadra; Sangiovese has been a unique inclusion frequently for this Rhone-esque blend, and this vintage marks the first use of Mourvedre in some time. Minimal oak presence gives the wine plenty of room to let loose the natural fragrance, and the inclusion of stems during fermentation brings out more of the earthy or savory side. Dark cherry skins, raspberry, hints of smoke, black pepper and anise on the nose that get more and more flowery as it opens up. The palate is less extracted than usually expected from Californian Rhones, delightfully so, giving the dark spice and tobacco leaf notes more of the stage with the red fruits, and a clean tartness to the finish. This is big on flavor but not a palate-stainer, with lots of new complexity to find every trip to the glass, great for big roast meat dishes.
Most people don't think about drinking high quality Loureiro. Most people don't think about the Loureiro grape ever, if we're honest. It's history in Portugal has largely been as a blending partner to make the classic Vinho Verde wine with the slight bit of fizz, rarely ever featured on its own with the name on the label. In recent decades there has been an increased movement to push the quality levels in wines across Portugal and elevate the reputation of the regions across the country, something the Portugal Boutique Winery project has taken to heart. Billing themselves as a 'micro-cooperative', they explore the country so source authentic older vineyards that feature native varietals, with the ideal of making the best exprssion of th grape possible. Sourced from two sites (one with schist and clay soils, the other with gravel) within a few miles of the ocean, the first aroma is intensely coastal with a mix of fresh lime and salty sea spray, with a hint of white citrus and flowers at the end. The palate is quenching with juicy lime and sour apple, oddly both mouthfilling AND light on its feet at the same time, finishing tart with another hint of the salinity. It's very much a Portuguese version of Muscadet from France, not just in the style and being extremely seafood friendly, but that they were both areas and varietals that nobody thought were worth the effort to make a 'better' wine than the ordinary. Until someone did.
With October being Virginia Wine Month, we wanted to spend at least one Insider's pick on one of the best wineries in the state. If you were to make a list of Virginia wineries that have consistently been at the very top level of quality in the state since the 1990s, it would be impossible to not have Linden on it. The constant presence of Jim Law and consistent mindset of the team in the vineyards and the cellars have genuinely helped to set the standard the rest of the state strives to reach. Their Hardscrabble Chardonnay and Red are iconic bottlings, and their quality extends throughout their entire lineup. This is probably their most whimsical wine; the term 'wabi sabi' is the name of a Japanese style that embraces the imperfect or incomplete, and the wine (also built to work with Asian cuisine) is blended lot by lot each year, changing the blend and the winemaking to best suit each vintage. Primarily Vidal Blanc and Viognier with decent chunks of Semillon and Petit Manseng, this is rich and floral but not nearly as much sweetness as one would first think. The first whiff is honeyed beeswax and pops of Viognier's white flowers, and with the evident richness in the glass you expect the first hit on your palate to be sugary. Far from it; apple and pear skin, crunchy white fruit, lots of mouthwatering acidity, great complexity through the finish. Excellent food partner with dishes featuring soy, ginger and some heat, can even stand up to beef with its richness.
Abruzzi has been an important wine growing region for Italy since Etruscan times, mostly known for volume production based around regional co-operatives. Quantity was more of the priority than quality, which is probably a factor in the workhorse Montepulciano grape (not to be confused with the Tuscan city of the same name) is not as well known or regarded outside the area. That focus has shifted over the last few decades, and while there is still oceans of the jug wines out there, producers like Valle Reale looking to make higher quality wines are having great success. Made from organic vineyards within one of Italy's most beautiful national park areas, this shows a significant step up from the everyday versions, with a deep color and lots of plum and currant on the nose with some Italian herbal notes. The palate has less acidity than your typical Tuscan Sangiovese based wine, but a lot of the flavors land the same, and being aged in concrete lets a lot of the naturally dusty earthy tannins show through quite nicely. A nice dinner wine that drinks bigger than it's price point.
All too often, wine labels and names are 'brands', words and images built for the exterior of the bottle that have nothing to do with what's inside. True family vineyards and wineries connect the two, place meaning on the name so that it represents the wine inside. Ten Sisters comes from the King family farm in Marlborough purchased after World War II and planted to vines about 40 years later. The wines are named after the ten daughters in the family (with one son mixed in), one of whom has moved and lived in the Central Virginia area, so we know it isn't a marketing gimmick. Just this Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir come from their property, so their wines have a real identity and quality to them. Rich citrus and white fruits on the nose with a hint of jalapeno skin- not heat, just herbal and savory green notes. The palate is very round and plush with lots of fresh cut pear and quince notes but stays well away from any sweetness with fine acidity and a touch of grape skin/pepper skin tannin to the finish. Deliciously food friendly style that can stand up to some of the more herbal or savory poultry/pork/seafood dishes around.
Custom made bottlings can be a double edged sword. They can be tasty treats, often good values, but can vary dramatically from vintage to vintage, especially if the wine isn't sourced from the same vineyards each year. The beauty of estate or smaller grower producers is that you get the wines from the same vineyards made with the same hands year after year, building consistency and reputation. Some of the better importers have been most capable of bucking that trend, usually by working with dependable wineries to help them build something reliable. European Cellars/Eric Solomon is one of the masters of this concept, and Bastide Miraflors is one of their more exemplary bottlings. Since its inception, the wine has always been built the same way; a blend of mostly Syrah with some older vine Grenache from the same sites in the Roussillon, with the blend aged in a mix of large oak demi-muids and concrete tanks. The subtle variances of vintages will of course make the character of the wine a bit different from year to year, but it would be hard to find many wines in this style that have been as consistently delicious. Deep ruby color with lots of cool dark fruits, blackberry and cola notes off the nose that get warmer and spicier as it opens up. The minimal use of oak allows the natural fragrance of the fruit to show through, and on the palate there is only the fine slightly dusty tannins; lots of surprisingly bright berry, but nothing heavy or extracted feeling, unexpectedly easy drinking for a region that has a reputation for making more oversized wines. A wine most every Rhone varietal fan should give a try!
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!