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.
Throughout most of winemaking history, vineyards developed where the growing conditions are the easiest vintage to vintage. Without technology, grape growing is a hard enough task without throwing in any extra degrees of difficulty. It's why even the greatest minds of the 18th and 19th centuries couldn't get the industry off the ground here in Virginia. With the vest improvements in every phase of vine development, vineyards can be planted in increasingly marginal conditions as winemakers look to be the first to find an undiscovered great terroir to mine. Even within well established growing areas like Valpolicella near Verona in Italy, there are new heights to reach. Stefano Accordini and their family started planting vineyards at increasingly higher altitudes around the mountain town of Cavalo in 1975 in an effort to exploit conditions they believed would naturally restrict the vigor and control the yields of the vines, helping to intensify the flavors, yet still provide ripe healthy fruit. In addition to their success and recognition among other wineries in Valpolicella, they have received international acclaim by winning awards in the Mondial des Vins Extremes competition, reserved for wines grown in what they call 'heroic vine growing areas'.
The basic Valpolicella Classico for most houses is their softest and most approachable bottling, but even this has a little extra edge thanks to the higher altitudes. Dark raspberry cherry tones on the nose are given some iron and cocoa tones from the cooler climate, as well as an almost Bordeaux-like dark currant fruit. The palate is quite soft on the tannins as a Valpolicella is expected to be, with only the slightest of dusty tones coming through on the finish, but still has plenty of structure thanks to the firm spine of acidity that brightens up all the flavors on the palate, even inviting a tang of blood orange and darker citrus flavors. As it opens up the fruits get a bit juicier and more generous, but always stays a step above the usual everyday bistro wine. This deserves a nice roast or other savory slow cooked 'comfort foods' to warm you on snowy weekends like the one approaching.
Certain grape varieties are harder to make into an 'everyday' wine than others. The things you do to lower the cost of farming the grapes (yield per vine, care in the vineyard, labor and selection during harvest) are also where flavor flaws develop, and some grapes have flaws that show up more readily than others. Nebbiolo is definitely one of those grapes, as it has a harder or high toned edge that needs time in the bottle to soften, so it is usually planted in the better ripening sites and made into nicer wines. If it appears in a more approachable wine it is usually part of a blend with Barbera and Dolcetto to soften Nebbiolo's edges. The Albino Rocca winery does things a little differently with this wine to tame Nebbiolo into a more serviceable role, extracting the juice and aging it in tank in a manner similar to the way Beaujolais is made, which makes a 'softer' wine than Nebbiolo usually creates. There is also a small percentage of Cabernet Franc blended in, just enough to bring a touch more fruit and savory aromatics.
From the start this will not be a wine anyone will confuse with a Barolo or Barbaresco (the most famous wines made from Nebbiolo) but the earmark characteristics are definitely there with loads of violets and bright red fruit aromas, as well as a savory smoky perfume lingering in the background. The palate is at first soft and generous showing off the darker flavors from the aroma, but the tannins are sneaky and appear the longer the wine is kept in the mouth, light and dusty but persistent and delivering a tart lengthy finish. Extremely food friendly thanks to the absence of oak, and only needing a little bit of time open to really hit it's full stride.
For our pre-New Years Eve edition of the Insider's Pick, we are looking to answer the question at least 75% of our customers will have in mind before they come in over the next few days: 'What's the best sparkling wine to take to a party that will ma
For our pre-New Years Eve edition of the Insider's Pick, we are looking to answer the question at least 75% of our customers will have in mind before they come in over the next few days: 'What's the best sparkling wine to take to a party that will make everyone think I spent a lot of money, even though I didn't?' Sound like you? Then you should definitely get by to try this before you get your party plans finalized. While Tasmania isn't a Mecca for winemaking, the cool climate provides the opportunity to make wines far different than those on mainland Australia, or even New Zealand. The persistent ocean breezes from the nearby Bass Straight moderates the temperature in all seasons which allow a cool, extended growth range which brings consistent ripeness and necessarily high acidity. The sparkling wine potential here was first tapped by the Louis Roederer family in 1986, and the excellence continues to this day, and in recent years even moved to sustainable and organic farming practices.
Built from the classic Champagne grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Premium Cuvee seeks to achieve a similar character and consistency of the base labels from the famous Champagne houses, and it absolutely nails it. Pouring with a fairly significant mousse at the start, the aromas are of bright apple and white citrus fruits, with a little bit melon and creamier fruits as the carbonation softens. While it does see a fair amount of time on the lees before disgorgement, there is very little of the biscuit-y, yeasty tone some sparkling wines can get. Instead it just adds a bit of roundness to the palate that carries loads of the fresh citrus from the nose that shows great length on the palate, lingering longer than the acidity on the finish. A delicious celebratory bottle that will put a smile on every party-goer's face.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2015 DOMAINE ARNELLE et BERTRAND RION BOURGOGNE VIEILLES VIGNES 'LA CROIX BLANCHE' $34.99
As our holiday present to you, our favorite customers, we decided to pull something out for the pre-Christmas Insider's Pick that will take care of all your fine dining needs. We often lament the fact of how difficult it is to find quality Red Burgundy at a fair price. It's because we wished they could all be like THIS little beauty. The Rion family farm about 12 acres total for all their wines, primarily in the Cote de Nuits, so when divided among 10 wines or so means there is barely an acre's worth of fruit going into each bottling. Unlike a lot of other producers they are not buying fruit to make this Bourgogne at a higher volume, instead making it all from one parcel of 50+ year old vines located just over the R.N. 74 from several Cru designated sites in Vosne-Romanee. This sees the same attention and care in the winery that their top wines from Vosne-Romanee and Nuits-St-Georges, but charged substantially less.
Unless you are really selfish and are demanding the top shelf, collector level Burgundy, there is little to find fault in for this wine. Youthful and aromatic from virtually the first pour, it bursts with dark fruits, exotic herbs and warming spices that seem to change intensity with each swirl. On the palate there is still a surprisingly firm tannin that suggests the potential for further cellaring, but the rich polished flavors are hard to put down, and the longer the wine stays open the more broad and beguiling it becomes. This is not a wine to be rushed into service at a party, but worthy of savoring over an evening or two with friends and family.
Sicily has been getting a lot of deserved attention over the past few decades for the re-emergence of their wines into the international scene. Most recently it has been on the wines from Mount Etna and the unique varieties that populate the volcanic soils, rediscovering 'new old stock' of ancient forgotten vineyards that provide unique Old World charm. In the rush of finding these wines, it's easy to forget the workhorse grapes like Nero d'Avola that dominate the rest of the island and are the backbone of their industry. The dark and hearty grape has some similarity to Syrah, and in some of the modern versions is blended together to give new consumers a familiar place to start. But the grape has lots of natural charms that shows through when done solo, and this example from one of Sicily's best co-operatives puts them all on full display.
Deep and saturated in the glass, the aromas are equally intense with loads of dark red and black fruits, as well as the prominent dusty earth tone that is usually a Nero d'Avola signature. The palate is equally full, but avoids the sweet or sappy fruit notes, instead going into savory game, violets, cherry skins, and an almost tart juiciness. This has the hearty character of a Rhone, but with a sensibility and mix of flavors that is distinctly Italian. A great option for beefy roasts and savory slow cooked 'comfort foods'.
It's hard to declare a winery as your favorite from a region like the Loire, with so many unique styles running the length of the river. But in an area where organic/Biodynamic agriculture and winemaking has flourished over the last few decades this estate has the distinct recognition as a leader in both aspects. A polycultural farm since the 1950s with a more expanded emphasis on wine since the 1990s, the Domaine is able to function almost completely 'off the grid' to grow and produce their wine, livestock, and other crops. Everything feeds and fertilizes the other parts of the farm, all tended by the family. The family only makes two wines; both Cabernet Franc, one from their older parcel planted just before World War II, the second (this one) from the newer parcel planted in the 1990s and raised in tank. Also, as this is just a part of the family's means of support, the pricing is extremely fair for the quality.
After an extremely difficult 2016 vintage that saw both quality and quantity issues in Bourgueil, 2017 brings a return to prime form with a deep, dark vintage that provides lots of smoky violets and dark cherry skin aromas, with no signs of any green tones that plagued the region in the past and the tougher years. The palate is lighter in texture than the aromas would suggest, but is by no means thin as the natural savory flavors and tart cranberry tones really push through on the finish. The absence of oak aging here also lets the younger vines show the lighter tannins and less saturated fruits in a very easy, elegant manner. A nice quenching red wine that will perform well with hearty soups, stews, savory roast chicken, and slow cooked 'comfort foods' of the cooler months.
One of the difficult problems for consumers and wineries that are pursuing the more 'natural' styles of winemaking is the cost of the wines. It's hard, expensive work to make wine where you ultimately intervene as little as possible, usually smaller batches that require a lot more hand care from birth to bottle. One way to help mitigate the costs for some wineries is to lower the cost of grapes used; it's one of the main reason each wine's story starts with 'a forgotten vineyards once in disrepair' or 'this grape have been overlooked by many'. For this wine, importer Indie Wines uses their relationship with their wineries to find fruit to make their own bottlings. Using lots the wineries may not be using or sourcing from other trusted growers, Indie is able to make a more affordable wine that does not undercut their other producers; in fact, this wine 'of the people' helps to introduce the public to the style by being done by the glass at restaurants or for an everyday drinker, drawing them in to see what else this wine world has to offer.
Built from the classic Piedmont blend of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, and Barbera, the wine pops from the glass with immediate aromas of dusty cherry and cranberry fruit, then evolves more soil and wild game notes as it opens. The palate is where the naturalist influence shows through the most, allowing more higher toned flavors through, almost citrusy at times, and a lot less saturated feel that still delivers flavors and intensity. The tannins and bright acidity give a tanginess to the finish that really bring out the savory tones through the finish that may not appeal to those that like a bigger fruit to their wines, but is ideal paired with savory pasta dishes and rustic meat dishes.
A little Black Friday respite from the early morning shopping sprees, either on-line or in person. Even if many of you may not have wine drinking on the mind right now while digesting yesterday's big meal, it never hurts to get a taste of something fun and new you may want to have later. Geoffrey is the 5th generation to work his family's lands in the Maconnais, and brings the experience of those before him into the modern world by using plow horses and organic/biodynamic methods whenever possible. While these style are becoming en vogue again, it is simply business as it has always been here. While Loche sits adjacent to the more famous area of Pouilly-Fuisse, the vineyards do not have the reputation of their neighbors, so the wines here can still deliver great relative value when made by the right hands.
From a site on the highest elevation in Pouilly-Loche, the Les Mures vineyard has uniquely chalky soils and great sun exposure, which produces a wine that carries both weight and minerality. White stone fruit and lemon curd aromas show quickly from the first pour, evolving hints of orange and Mediterranean citrus as it opens up. On the palate the chalky soils come through surprisingly well, almost Chablis-like dusty texture that penetrates the palate while also showing nice richness from the extensive time on the lees. While wines from the Macon can frequently show a modern, tropical side that can get into the buttery realm, the minimalist style here shows nothing but natural vinous flavors This is a wine that begs for some rich fish or seafood dishes to marry up with the zesty palate.
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.
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!