This is a break from our usual norms this time of year, breaking out a white wine for the Insider's Pick in Winter. But with so many warm days recently, who can really tell, so seasonality can go right out the window. Plus a really fascinating wine like this is never confined to any one season. This come to us from a slowly growing stable of wines from one of the few producers on the island of Ischia, just off the coast of Naples. This island is part of the same volcanic chain as Mount Vesuvius on the mainland, and while its eruptions were not as catastrophic as its neighbor, it does have reference in both Greek and Roman mythology and was active as recently as the 14th century. Nowadays it is more known as a tourist attraction for their beaches and thermal fed hot springs, but the island is also the surprising home to a number of wine grape varieties that rarely get planted elsewhere. The intense character the volcanic soils brings to these grapes make them stand out in ways that just can't be found on the more mixed soils of the mainland, and with less than 20 square miles to work with there just isn't room to plant anything else. Along with Forastera, Biancolella is the grape of most importance here, usually making up the lion's share of local blends or being featured solo like it is here, and one that does make an occasional important appearance on the mainland
For fans of Neapolitan or Campania region wines, you may first draw some comparisons of this to the Greco grape in that is has a tropical, almost floral nose with lots of juicy Mediterranean fruit and white citrus. The volcanic soils help to insert some pinpricks of minerality into the aromas, somewhat minty in the background that keep it lively and inviting. On the palate the texture is equally juicy and the flavors mirror the aromas, but the nervy minty minerality comes through even more, bringing out a very fresh and quenching mouthfeel where other wines can be more cloying, and finishes with a touch of fuzzy peach skin dryness. This is perfect to pair with fish or seafood dishes that have a lot of citrus and herb influence.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Virginia wine scene is that, being in its infancy relative to the rest of the world, we are still finding our way towards what our best 'style' really is. Places in France, Italy, and Spain have had literally centuries of trial and error behind them before evolving into a common tradition among producers in a region. Ideas and theories can take decades to fully be tested, so truly effective changes tend to happen slowly, often slower than the general public has patience for. Most of the time wineries need to play it relatively safe to produce wines that will sell well with the general public, so the experiments that help to evolve and move forward tend to happen in small batches and usually as 'side projects'. For several years our favorite example has been the 'R' wines from Riaan Roussow, the winemaker at Lovingston, and recently there has been the Lightwell Survey wines from Ben Jordan &Co. at Early Mountain. Now we can add the wines of Joy Ting to that list. After working at the Michael Shaps Wineworks for several vintages, Joy was hired to be the 'Research Enologist and Exchange Coordinator' for the Virginia Winemakers Research Exchange. Basically, her job is to help winemakers across the state with their processes and help them experiment to find the best ways to make wines where they are. When she gets the chance, her own label looks to take those ideas even further, and we couldn't be more excited to have this Cabernet Franc-as well as a Merlot and Chardonnay-to show off her work.
Built with 50% whole cluster inclusion in the tank and partial carbonic maceration, this wine is built to get maximum flavor and color out of the tricky 2018 vintage without getting any harsh edges. A beautiful ruby dark color in the glass, the aromas jump from the glass after a few swirls, full of cranberry, cherry skins, fresh berries and hints of cracked pepper. After some time open there are hints of sweeter fruits like strawberry and cherry notes, but as a whole the aromas stay on the earthy/savory side. The palate is lithe and elegant with lots of the tart cranberry fruit punching through.The whole clusters and partial carbonic maceration gives the tannins a very fine, unobtrusive texture that only peeks in on the finish, as well as the bright acidity from the Shenandoah Valley sourced fruit that gives the finish This is a style of Cabernet Franc that pays more homage to the Loire than Bordeaux, fresh and savory, pretty and approachable enough to enjoy now or in the relatively short term before all the crunchy fruit fades away.
INSIDER'S PICK: NV TREVERI ROSE COLUMBIA VALLEY ($15.99) NV A.R. LENOBLE CHAMPAGNE 'INTENSE' (Mag 14) $37.99
A New Year's Eve double feature tasting, providing a little something for whatever type of celebration you may be attending this evening. For the more casual party or budget conscious get-together we have one of the most unsung American sparkling wine producers we've ever brought in. For those going a little more formal or doing something more upscale, we have Champagne from a producer that offers great value for the quality they deliver, punching well above the more famous mass marketed names. Whatever your plans are and wherever you're going, one of these is bound to be a crowd favorite tonight. Both of these wines will take the usual Insider's Pick 10% discount over the course of the day.
Treveri is a sparkling wine specialist from Washington, existing outside the more glamorous growing areas of Napa and the Willamette Valley, which allows them to grow and source fruit inexpensively and bring their wines to the table at extremely fair prices. They explore a lot of varieties making their sparkling wines, both traditional and non-traditional, such as with their Rose which uses Syrah blended with Chardonnay to provide the bright ruby color. Dry, but not astringently so, with lots of cherry skin and tart raspberry fruit, and even hints of the cool climate Syrah note of savory meats. Juicy enough on the palate to enjoy sipping by itself, but also substantial and complex enough to marry in with meaty hors d'oeuvres you may be snacking on tonight.
A.R. Lenoble is one of the rare houses in Champagne that is a)family owned and run, b)environmentally conscious ( Haute Valeur Environnementale certified), and c) still provides great deals up and down their lineup. Having picked up a singifigant part of their lineup over the last few months, from Blanc de Blancs to Blanc de Noirs and even a snazzy little Demi-Sec, this is definitely a house we endorse without reservation. The 'Intense' is their flagship non-vintage cuvee, unique in that the family ages the base wine from each growing year in magnum bottles instead of tanks until it needs to be blended, providing a unique texture and flavor component to the wine, as well as providing consumers with an easy way of recognizing a different lot of non-vintage wine.Vibrant white fruit with a touch of skin and bitter almond. Lots of complex white and red fruit on the palate without being exorbitant and over the top, either in style or in cost. A name in bubbly you should definitely get to know.
Whichever of these wines you may choose for this evening, have a safe and enjoyable New Year!
A bit of a double feature today for tasting, as we are also featuring local producer North American Sake Brewery from 2pm onward, with a representative from the brewery in through at least 5pm. Based in the IX Park complex beneath Three Notch'd Brewery, this is an exciting producer with a lot of experience gained in Japan learning the craft. We will be pouring their Junmai, Nigori, and Karakuchi Genshu bottlings (pictured), as well as a brand new release of sparkling sake. Come for the wine, and surprise yourself with quality sake!
There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the old saying goes, and there's more than one way to make a wine from a grape with thick skins. If that isn't a saying yet, then it should, as there are more and more wineries looking to build their wines in less intensive and aggressive styles. Mourvedre is a grape that is traditionally marked for greatness based on the extremes of size, weight, and intensity, usually done so for the wow factor and the potential for keeping in the cellar for decades. And this isn't to disparage wines like Bandol from France of the impressive Monastrells from around Valencia, which are wonderful in their own right. But this is built from the ground up to show more restraint; shooting for lower sugars in the grapes at harvest, less time sitting on the skins so the tannins aren't as harsh, less emphasis on new oak and barrel aging. The result is a wine that's approachable, fresh, and drier on the palate, but no less flavorful.
A deep ruby color in the glass, but not so inky and opaque that it's sucking the light from objects around it, and a surprisingly savory aroma of black skinned fruits, ground pepper and dusty berries. On the palate there isn't even the slightest hint of sweetness or jammy fruit, completely tart and tangy black fruits with a touch of cranberry skin, fine and dusty tannins that give everything a pop of dusty herbs through the finish. Mourvedre has such a strong reputation for making palate staining wines, but this is downright elegant in nature, and doesn't require something equally nassive to pair with it. This is a style that has developed more popularity thanks to the naturalist wine movement, and while the Skinner Vineyards isn't dogmatic about following those methods, this definitely learns some of their lessons, and is a delicious food friendly option to enjoy.
An old friend is back in the store after being absent for a few vintages in Virginia. Pali Wine Co. is like many good names in the Californian wine business, with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and sourcing fruit from various sites where they can find them. Over the years they have accumulated quite the inventory of top notch properties to work with, extending from the Sonoma Coast all the way down to Santa Barbara. Where they have been most successful and exciting (at least to us) has been their lineup of value oriented 'regional' wines, blends of several vineyards within specific AVAs. Their choice of site is pretty much impeccable, and their winemaking style is very restrained on the oak and extraction, which allows the regional character to really shine through in each bottling. All too often you find producers with these types of bottlings where the 4-5 'different' regions taste way more alike than not, but the Pali wines always shows a wonderful sense of place to us.
The Huntington is built from 5 vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills, and is just a picture perfect reminder of how distinct Santa Barbara wines are. Deep ruby in the glass but not thick and saturated, the nose has surprisingly cool black cherry skin aromas, blue and black fruits, a bit of cola and dried spice. Some of the Santa Barbara area wines can have a overly warm streak, but the cooling fog influences definitely show through here to keep the sweeter side of Pinot Noir in check. The palate has a nice mouth-filling juiciness to it at first, lots of black raspberry and cherry notes, but the fine tannins and acidity start to kick in as it sits on your palate, getting more savory and black herbs as well as a touch of fresh tartness that lingers on the finish. Far from an overblown fruit bomb, this is what the 'Sideways' era Pinot drinker was getting excited about back in the day, and what is still exciting about the region now.
In our most recent Select Six email, the write-up on the Laffitte-Teston Madiran makes mention of how the Tannat grape is increasing in popularity among Virginian vineyards and winemakers. Another grape you may see appearing more frequently at local wineries is Blaufrankisch, one of the most popular and important grape varieties in Austria and Eastern Europe. While it can have some issues with early frosts, it tends to be very hearty and thrive in warmer summers, producing dark wines with lots of fruit ranging from juicy and spicy to a bit of savory funk. Wineries looking to make an everyday easy drinking wine may emulate the Hungarian Ergi Bikaver, or 'Bull's Blood', but those looking to make a more intensive red may look to wines like this from Austria's Burgenland region. As one of Austria's warmer climates, the Blaufrankisch here gets about as ripe as possible, and is so well respected there is a 'Cru' designation available for sites and areas to award producers looking to make high level wines.
Inky dark in the glass, the nose is full of black fruits and spice that push right up to the edge of being called 'warm', but still have that cool blue fruit/cola/savory spice note that keep it from showing too jammy. The palate is deep and mouthfilling, juicy almost in the way of a Zinfandel or a Cotes du Rhone but with darker fruit and more natural acidity. There is also a bit of chew from the natural tannins which gives a lot of length and dry currant tones to the finish. There is a lot more muscle and sinew to the fruit than most would expect from a wine this far from the warmth of the Mediterranean, so fans of those types of wines should take notice, maybe mix one in for a meal one weekend.
One of our all time favorite people in the wine industry (anywhere in the world, not just Virginia) is Lovingston winemaker Riaan Rossouw. In the season of Thanksgiving he is a person we are thankful for, bringing his passion and unique attitude towards wine and the world, giving us the privilege of selling and describing his wines to our customers. This Insider's Pick represents his most public face, the winery he has been with since its first day and helped the Puckett family grow. On Saturday we will have Riaan in the store to pour and discuss-at GREAT length- his personal label, 'R'. These small batch wines allow him to test theories and push the limits of Virginia winemaking, with much of the small scale successes translating into the production of the larger scale Lovingston wines. These are all wines that exemplify the character and potential of Virginia winemaking; not when they're forced to try and be 'like California', 'like France', or 'like Australia', but simply allowed to be themselves. Today/tomorrow and Saturday are days that Virginia wines will really strut their stuff.
On first pour, there may be a bit of sludge or sediment at the cork, especially when the wine sees time in cooler storage as it is prone to be around here during the Fall and Winter months. If you are not familiar with minimally filtered wines, DO NOT PANIC! These super-fine particles are a sign the wine has been left alone as much as possible before bottling, which allows the wine to retain a better level of texture and fullness in the mouth (without having to replace it with sugar). It requires patience, but it makes for a much more flavorful and nuanced wine. This also sees aging in only neutral multi-use barrels, so all the natural character of the Merlot grape shines through, with loads of cool cherry and old leather on the nose that gains spice and sweeter red berries as it opens up. The palate is extremely polished and silky, with just a fine natural tannin and a pop of natural acidity that brings some earthy tones to the soft fruit and tart cherry skin flavors. Flavorful but not pounding you over the head with intensity or oak, This is an excellent option for pouring for friends and family, with and around the Thanksgiving meal, especially for those that live outside the state. If they are the adventurous sort, perhaps try them on the 'R' wines as well...
For Thanksgiving, people will often look to pull out the 'big guns' to drink in celebration with their family, the most exciting and usually most expensive wines. The problem you can run into is that those wines are often built to age for a fairly long time, so if you aren't pulling one from out of the cellar you may be buying a wine that just isn't ready to drink right now. Classic favorites like Bordeaux, California Cabernet Sauvignon and Brunello di Montalcino are built for the long haul with lots of strong tannins and oak barrel aging, so in their youth those astringent characters will really dominate and can overwhelm all but the heartiest of meals. To serve with the meal itself, a safer bet is to do a more basic version of those favorites that use the same grapes and winemaking expertise, yet don't need a decade or more to round into form. A Rosso di Montalcino like this one, for example, uses the exact same grape variety as a Brunello and grown in the same privileged sites, just with less time aging in barrel and bottle before release. These are built for the purpose of drinking in the short term, allowing you to age the Brunellos until they are ready.
This small and fairly newly formed house has been under the radar for most Montalcino fans, but as Vinous writer Ian d'Agata recently wrote 'I cannot think of too many estates in Montalcino whose wines have improved more over the last 10 years'. A lovely deep ruby color in the glass, the aromas are dark and classic for Montalcino, full of savory tobacco leaf, black cherry and dusty earth. There may be the slightest touch of oak aromas, but they sit well back of the grape's natural character, giving it a lot of naked complexity. The palate is equally approachable for the variety, with lots of up front dark dried fruit and more tobacco tones, with the polished tannins only appearing on the finish where they have a long and lingering dustiness. This wine absolutely opens up and evolves over time and with decanting, picking up notes of sweeter fruits and potpourri, but the improvement can be marked by the hour or half hour as opposed to by the 3-4 hour blocks of time needed for a younger Brunello. The perfect Tuscan wine to actually serve with the diversity of a Thanksgiving dinner table, or to pop during an impromptu nosh while grazing the leftovers.
The Van Duzer Corridor is a newly developed AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Willamette Valley. Do we really need another one, you may say, especially when it seems so many of the boundary lines are drawn arbitrarily at best and politically/financially at worst (gerrymandering, sadly, exists in the wine world as well). In this case, the new area absolutely makes sense based on the geography and how it affects the way grapes ripen. The viticultural area is a small part of the larger Van Duzer Wind Gap, a low lying channel in the mountains that allows wind and weather systems to move through the mountains without being blocked and altered going over them. Where the corridor empties into the Willamette Valley sees a significant increase in steady winds throughout the year, keeping the daily air temperatures down in the vineyards by as much as 8-10 degrees per day. The valley rises as you travel North from the Van Duzer, which dampens the effect significantly. Vineyards here tend to ripen at a slower rate than the rest of the Willamette, giving wineries the option of picking earlier for more vibrant acid driven wines or letting the grapes hang longer for deeper, darker flavors. In cases like this, the better wineries balance the best of both aspects into one distinct package that truly show something different from the rest of the region.
Built from all estate grown and Biodynamic certified vineyards, this isn't just a great value for an eco-conscious consumer, this is a great value for an Oregon Pinot Noir. Full stop. Dark and youthful in color, the nose just absolutely reeks with subtlety. Currants, black cherry skins abound, but also shows underlying notes of herbs and pepper, even hints of citrus that come from the wine's natural acidity. On the palate the winery's naturalist approach shows through with an unfiltered texture allowing the savory red fruits to shine through without feeling thin or lacking in oomph. The natural yeasts also show a different level of complexity as well, slightly tart in places, more succulent and food related than sweeter berry, and the longer the wine is open the more diverse the profile becomes. An early contender for the wine you HAVE to get for Thanksgiving this year, especially if you prefer the legs and thighs of the bird or are doing a more unique game bird for the big meal.
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!