The Corbieres region in the Sud of France has always been the high volume 'bread basket' of French wine, with a low emphasis on quality over quantity. Most wine drinker s in America barely register with the name of any producers from the region, save for maybe Domaine de Fontsainte which has been brought in by noted importer Kermit Lynch for 40 years. After that, the reaction is '?????'. In some cases it's the lack of enough quality estates to really bring the public consciousness around from the wealth of producers from the Rhone and more acclaimed areas of the Languedoc. But even when really good ones appear, their choice of Carignan as the featured grape just doesn't seem to catch hold with our population. The grape has a naturally gamey, savory side that can be a bit off-putting to those that prefer juicier and more fruit-forward flavors, and definitely wants food as an accompaniment versus being sipped as a cocktail. More people need to taste the wines from producers like Chateau Lastours that get it all just right, not only with high quality grapes and vineyards to work with but allowing a little more cellar time before release to soften the rougher edges of Carignan into a more exciting wine.
Deep in color, the aromas are straight our of central casting for a bistro in Montpellier or Narbonne, bursting with currant, dark cocoa, and savory roasted meats. The bit of bottle age also pulls out a more subtle perfume in the background than usually found from the region, almost a sweet floweriness behind the animal tones. The palate is super impressive for a Corbieres, silky and polished with more cocoa and tangy black fruits from the nose, only hinting at the more gamey side in the background and on the iron/bloody finish. This is the perfect wine with rustic Mediterranean foods with lots of salty meats, olives and roasted character to it.
Spring has officially arrived, with the opening day of Major League Baseball today and the explosion of flowering trees blooming everywhere. Another aspect of Spring, at least in our part of Virginia, is the inability to pick your wardrobe for the day, with frost conditions in the morning switching to shorts and t-shirts by noon. Basically it means that EVERY wine option is available right now, from light whites to roses to heavy reds. Whatever mood strikes you, the weather won't restrict your choice of wine. It's still weeks away from the dreaded 'triple H' of central Virginia weather (hazy, hot, and humid) so a full throated Californian Cabernet is definitely in play. This estate located in the southern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains has had an on again/off again relationship with the Virginia market, but has been on our radar here since visiting over 20 years ago. A nice spread of varietal wines from their 150 acres of estate grown, sustainably farmed/vegan friendly vineyards, and this is our favorite thus far.
A rarity in Californian Cabs, this is not only a strong value but shows remarkable restraint in structure, avoiding the fruitier and extracted character so often found in this price range. Deep cassis and earthy black skinned fruits on the nose, showing more soil and black walnut elements as it opens up. The texture in the mouth is impressively rich showing more dark fruits and dusty cocoa tones, and not a shred of sweetness to be found. This isn't to say it's austere either, as the tannins are super fine and polished for a Cab, allowing the dark dusty fruit to linger on the finish in as very Old School manner. A delicious option for the dinner table, and a brand you will likely see more of in the future around the store.
Since our store opened up in 1994, the focus of the layout was to present the wines (and beers) by state or country of origin instead of variety. The land, the environment, and even the culture of the people around the vineyards have a monumental impact on the character of the finished wine, we have always found that to be more essential to our mindset than sorting by variety or flavors or winemaking process. Where it sometimes reaches out and bites us on the butt is when we forget a wine outside the regions we usually feature for certain varieties. When people are looking for Pinot Noir, for example, the classic regions of Burgundy, Oregon and California are chocked full of options. We have to check ourselves to make sure we include the tasty outliers from areas like Austria, Alto Adige in Italy, and of course New Zealand. While they can be a bit pricey by the time they get here from halfway around the world, when we find ones that succeed they are well worth the try and show distinction from those in the rest of the world.
From a cooler climate in Marlborough, this is a Pinot Noir that compares more favorably to the style of wines from Oregon than the extremes of California or Burgundy.Smokey nose of cool cherry and dusky black fruits, almost a hint of wild game as well when it first gets poured but having the red fruits catch up and bring out a sweeter perfume after some time. The palate has nice weight for a Pinot at this price, but still leans more towards the savory side with currant flavors and a touch of smokey/iodine on the finish. A little rugged, a little wild on the palate, but still finished with the polished velvety tannins people expect from Pinot. More of a food wine than for sipping by itself, but an ideal pairing with duck, rich savory soups, and pork with dark spicing.
El Dorado County is the heart of the California Gold Rush, one of the major historical influences to westward expansion and European immigration in the mid-1800s. It was also an important home to the early days of Californian wine as many families brought vine cuttings from their native lands to create their own vineyards. Several of the first wine companies in the state developed here and along the Sierra Foothills range, but faded in importance as the population shifted to San Francisco area and the surrounding vineyards. The Skinner family established one of the first wineries and distilleries in 1861 and ran a fairly large operation for many years, but faded into an obscure fragment of history until 2006 when a branch of the family picked up the rights to the name and 'rediscovered' the vineyards. Their vineyards focus on Rhone varieties, capitalizing on the dramatic elevation changes along the Sierra Foothills to grow grapes in a variety of conditions to develop great complexity and subtlety in their many blends.
The winery's Smithereens series pays tribute to the miners of the Gold Rush using dynamite to blast out gold deposits (not the 80s band of the same name), and is built to be their more basic Cotes du Rhone style wines. Primarily Grenache with Mourvedre in support, the aromas are warm and forward with lots of spicy red berries with hints of forest floor and dark spices. The palate is where the character of the region truly shines through, with lots of acidity and texture born from the variety of elevations and soil types in the vineyard sources. It brings out more bright red fruits, even some cranberry-like tartness that keeps the fruit tones from feeling too sweet or heavy on the finish. Super polished flavors, modern and juicy, this is an exciting addition to the 'Rhone Ranger' selection in the store, great for food or easy drinking enjoyment.
Beaujolais has had a streak of excellent quality over the last few vintages, continuing its reputation as one of the great sources of value for its best wines, at least for those that are fans of the style. 2017 may put a momentary blip in that streak, as several hailstorms caused substantial damage to stretches of prime vineyards, some of which were victimized for the second year in a row. The timing of the storms reduced volume by as much as 80% for some producers, which is causing many wines to jump sharply in price just to stay in business. Fortunately the fruit that survived was still of high quality, so even with price increases the wines are still worthwhile and exciting. Those lucky enough to have dodged the hail are truly blessed to have yet another strong vintage under their belts, and like Chateau Cambon don't have to see their prices budge. This house has roots back to the late Marcel Lapierre, one of the most important names in modern Beaujolais and organic/Biodynamic winemaking, and continue their tenets of minimal intervention, low sulfur usage, and general 'hands off' winemaking.
Beaujolais is never a wine that expects to be judged based on the tremendous weight or size, so for this to be described as light and pretty is exactly where they set out for it to be. Classic spot-on Gamay aromas of cherry skins and purple flowers pop from the glass, not as juicy or sweetly fruited as the warmer 2015 vintage. On the palate the unfiltered texture gives the fine tannins a little something extra to grip onto behind the savory cherry fruit, and the bright acidity brings out the dark iodine tones, almost reminiscent of tasting blood in your mouth (but in a food flavor way, not 'I just got punched in the lip' way). That is the aspect of good Beaujolais that makes them such a great match with thinly cut cured meats, one of the great lunch time/snacking wines around.
The towns of Novara and Vercelli are the 'major' population points for what is referred to as the 'Alto Piemonte' region, close in distance to the famous cities of Milan, Turin, and Asti, but vastly different cultures. The history is largely agricultural until after World War II when there was a massive push towards industrialization. Aside from some crops like rice, most agricultural industries shrank to virtually nothing; vineyards had once been the equal in volume to those around Barolo and Barbaresco, but at its lowest point were reduced to less than 1,500 total acres. In recent years there has been a rural renaissance evolving where more people are rediscovering their roots and exploring many pursuits once abandoned, which includes redeveloping many vineyard sites. Inovaters like Gianluca Zanetta are leading the charge, developing the small La Capuccina resort and curating the Alto Piemonte specific cuisine and ambiance. Over time his love for the region's wines pushed him to purchase small parcels in the Fara DOC to make his own bottlings. Normally a winery of such limited production would have little need or desire to export, but fortunately for us we have importers in Virginia with the passion (and strong persuasive skills) to pry free a small amount for us.
Vespolina is the workhorse grape in the region, with Nebbiolo usually featured in the more famous and expensive wines, but is increasingly important as the need for affordable wines increases as the reputation grows. This is about as high as the quality gets for the varietal, especially at this price. Smoky red cherry aromas with a huge flavor wheel's worth of complimentary savory notes on the nose; dark flowers, wild game, blacker fruits and spices. The palate gets drier and darker with lots of plum skin, black pepper and tart red fruit flavors, and a very fine earthy texture to the finish from the tannins. This is a wine that shows its wild side, less fruit forward and 'crowd-pleasing' than a Barbera, but more accessible than a Nebbiolo that may need 4-6+ years in the cellar to loosen up. This craves gamey meats to pair with it, lentil soup, or hearty stews with lots of beans and rustic flavors.
After spending most of Wednesday living inside a Slushee machine, I'm sure folks in central Virginia dipped into their stock of wines and need to replenish today. A nice warming Spanish red like this should do the trick for many of you. This wine is part of a project by noted winemaker Isaac Fernandez, who has about 25 years worth of experience working in the Ribera del Duero for many wineries. His own work focuses on recognizing single properties that can reflect the diversity in the region that often isn't observed in larger production wines. Finca la Mata is the name of the 60 year old vineyard planted in gravely/sandy soil overlying clay. The photo on the label shows off the gnarled bush-trained vines, but it also shows how finite the property is, showing approximately 2/3 of the property. This wine IS this place, and nothing more, and even if it became world famous they can't make more. Which is fine by us, as undiscovered wines are the best deals.
A lovely aroma of blueberry skins and graphite on the nose, as well as a touch of vanilla tones from the oak aging, but nowhere near overdone, actually fading well into to background with some time open. The mouthfeel is rich which pulls out lots of the dark red fruit intensity as well as some cocoa tones, but also has surprising minerality thanks to the soils, which pulls out the blueberry skin notes on the finish. While a big wine full of flavor, it keeps its balance and poise, even a hint of elegance behind the intensity. A fun wine with lots of time ahead of it to evolve.
INSIDER'S PICK: VALENTINE'S DAY TRIPLE PLAY NV WOLFBERGER ROSE CREMANT d'ALSACE-$16.99 NV ROLAND CHAMPION CHAMPAGNE BRUT ROSE A CHOUILLY-$44.99 NV TROUILLARD CHAMPAGNE BRUT ROSE BRILLANT 'ELEXIUM'-$41.99
In need of a little 'pink drink' for your Valentine's Day plans today or this weekend? Hope you haven't made your purchase plans just yet, as we have a trio of bubbles that are sure to scratch your itch one way or another. Even within the three bottles there is a diversity of character and style due to the grapes used and the way the rose color is achieved. All three wines use the 'methode champenoise' procedure to get the carbonation in to the wine, using a second fermentation in the bottle to trap the gas versus injecting the gas into the wine en masse. The second way is faster and cheaper, but also far less complex and refined, as well as much more likely to give you a headache.
All three wines use Pinot Noir to some extent. Wolfberger is a 100% Pinot Noir wine that spends about 15 months on the lees for secondary fermentation before disgorgement, which is significantly longer than required for a Cremant d'Alsace. It shows through in the flavor, with extra weight on the palate behind the strawberry and savory herb tones. While it won't be confused with the true Champagnes, it provides loads of pleasure and is an exceptional value for those looking to celebrate a little more simply. Both the small grower house Champagnes are built from the three predominant grapes of the region; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, and are aged for at least 3 years before disgorgement. Roland Champion creates the rose color by blending equal portions of pressed juice with no color from all three varieties (color comes from the grape skins, and only gets into the juice when allowed to soak for a period of time) and vinified together, then blended before bottling with a small portion of fully red colored Pinot Noir. The Pinot is also aged longer than the rest of the blend before being used, which brings a more complex and nuanced flavor to the fruit. Trouillard blends equal part of the three varietals together, all with similar color components to achieve a younger, fresher red fruit character, but adds a reserve of about 35% of the juice from the previous year before bottling to give a bit more consistency to the wine from vintage to vintage. Which will be YOUR favorite?
Sometimes a run of success for a wine can be a bit of a burden. The two previous vintages for this bottling were wildly successful, receiving strong press from multiple sources and selling like gangbusters, especially for the price point. As all good vintages are finite and must come to an end, the distributor moved quickly from one to the next, and now has the newest vintage in house and ready to go. We tasted on it, enjoyed it just as much as the previous two, and brought it in as soon as the last of the 2016 sold through. The problem for some seems to be that the wine has arrived ahead of its press, and have had a bit of 'wait and see' approach to trying the 2017. We are equally excited with it as we were when we first tasted the 2015 and 2016, so we think we are ahead of the hype in getting behind the newest vintage, and think you will agree once you taste it.
A blend of Biodnamic farmed Grenach, Syrah, and Carignan aged in tank and bottle give the wine plenty of accessible fruit even being fairly young, with lots of black fruits, currants and cocoa tones with hints of savory earth. The texture is fairly full with a noticeable dusty texture to the red fruits due to the unfiltered texture, which brings out the cocoa tones on the palate as well. The juicier fruit notes aren't quite as pronounced in some ways as the previous vintages, but they do start to show through more as the wine is opened up, so it may just be as much about the newness of the wine to the bottle as it is vintage variation. The wine certainly doesn't lack for anything, and can stand on its own merits as a high quality value. Make your own call and get this into your drinking rotation before the rest of the world catches on!
When winemakers are looking to experiment and push the boundaries of their artistic medium, they almost always have to do so with excess or unwanted fruit. It's one of the reasons so many of the wines being produced in the 'naturalist' style are using grapes you may never have heard of or done in odd or non-traditional combinations. This is even harder in places like Virginia where there are barely enough good vines to go around for the full-time regular projects, much less having something left on the bone for experimentation. Lightwell Survey is a VERY small side project for Early Mountain winemaker Ben Jordan in collaboration with several friends within various parts of the wine industry, created with a mission to explore the less championed parts of the state and experiment with some of the minimalist winemaking styles that don't translate well to the more mass marketed wine styles. With some wines being made in less than 50 case lots, you may never see what they do get 'scores' or 'awards', because there just isn't enough to spare sending out free samples for evaluation. Taste them for yourself, see how unique and extraordinary they are, and let your own palate decide.
Inspired by the Northern Rhone tradition of co-fermenting Syrah and Viognier harvested at the same time from the same vineyards, this unique combination of Syrah and Riesling comes from a vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley. A transparent ruby color in the glass, which comes from the diluting effect of the 40% Riesling in the Syrah, the aromatics are absolutely outrageous. Alternating black cherry and cola notes with white wildflowers, cassis and peaches, constantly back and forth. The contrast of red and white aromas are very similar to those found in the Italian red grape called Ruche, or even Blaufrankisch from Austria/Eastern Europe. The palate is even more intriguing, picking up the acidity from the Riesling in the tart red cherry and ruby grapefruit notes, white the tannins provide structure and dryness to the peach and grapeskin flavors. The act of co-fermenting versus just blending the finished fruit integrates the two grapes so elegantly and seamlessly, it's a wonder more people don't try this idea. This is not making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, it's delicious and innovative winemaking at it's best.
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!