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 'natural' wine movement has its roots steeped deeply into tradition, but often has to embrace non-traditional elements to be successful. The goal is to make wines with as little modern technology or intervention as possible -organic/Biodynamic practices, using native yeasts for fermentation, 'hands off' aging and bottling techniques-in the hopes of capturing more unique and distinctive local characters of the past. The process is risky (as is finding a market to sell it to), so wine makers aren't often going to use the most expensive grapes coming from the most famous high dollar vineyards. Producers all over the world are finding their raw material in the forgotten grapes, overlooked vineyards or excess juice worthy of experimenting outside the box. Rafael Tiraldo spent much of his early career as a winemaking consultant for other more traditional producers, while all the time creating his own unique vision on a remote property in the Andes foothills near Lago Colbun. Many of his eccentric ideas then (even planting some vineyards in a labyrinth pattern) are now central to the Natural wine movement, and his vision brings not only high quality wines but also exceptional value for the style.
With a completely unique blend consisting of Riesling, Chardonnay, and Torontel (Torrontes in Argentina), you would think the resulting wine would smell more fruity and tropical, but there is just an initial lime and white flower pop at the start. The majority of the nose is zesty and vibrant citrus with an underlying salinity, as well as a cooling minty streak. On the palate the more pronounced flavors of the natural wine style show through, full of bracing citrus peel, refreshingly subtle white fruits, almost bracing in its acidity but the roundness in the texture from the lees aging gives the acidity something to hold onto. It's bold but not shrill, probably at its best with foods or salads with some vinegar or pickles in them. Most importantly it delivers great character and value for the style of wine it's trying to be, which is tough to find.
When the resurrection of Australia's wine image is finally complete in the United States, converted back to a country of great diversity from the awful era of mass marketed 'critter labels', Yalumba will be considered one of the great wineries that survived and thrived on both sides. Coming up on 170 years of existence, the winery certainly has roots to the old school, but also lead the way in the Australian emergence during the 1990s-2000. They were among the very first to experiment with alternative closures like screw caps for higher quality wines well before tainted corks made it a worldwide issue, as well as championing grape other Rhone varieties like Grenache and Viognier in the face of large scale Syrah/Shiraz planting and promotion. Most importantly they never went overboard with expansion and brand promotion as they have grown, sticking to core ideals of quality for all their different levels of wines. Today they are among the largest wineries in the world to have 100% of their productions sustainably farmed and certified vegetarian/Vegan friendly. All without loosing any of their Aussie character and deliciousness.
While many Australian Grenaches tend to be overblown and boozy, this is the picture of surprising balance and restraint. Pale ruby in the glass with an almost Pinot Noir-esque transparency, the aromas are warm briary fruits and dried spices but without any sweetness or pruney heat. On the palate the Pinot Noir comparison comes in again, with the super fine tannins and hints of cranberry skin tartness behind the round soft mouthfeel. This could almost be mistaken for a Pinot from a warmer climate but for the warmer berry fruits that show through. A Pinot drinker WOULD definitely enjoy this for the smoothness, while a Rhone wine fan would enjoy the roundness of body and complexity of fruit. Incredibly all-purpose and tasty with bold foods or enjoyed on its own.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2015 BREWER-CLIFTON CHARDONNAY SANTA RITA HILLS (Vinous/Wine Advocate/Wine Spectator 92 points) $29.99
It isn't often that we can offer a tasting on wine that has equally great press from the 3 major wine review organizations we observe the most. It's even less frequent to be able to offer discounts on that wine. Lesser wines are frequently snapped up at this price in just a few weeks with even the slightest praise. Brewer-Clifton has been a leading force in the emergence of the Santa Rita Hills over the last two decades, creating vineyard distinctive Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay from local sites that captured many awards and high scores over the years. They were also one of the first to create an urban tasting room in Lompoc, what later became known as the Lompoc 'Wine Ghetto' and an integral part of customers tasting and discovering the up-and-coming wineries. At times their opulent, even super-sized style has drawn criticism for big alcohol and a perceived unbalance of fruit and (lack of) acidity, especially in their single vineyard wines. Over time, and especially since they have been able to get their fruit from 100% estate controlled vineyards, they have reached more of an equilibrium. While nobody will confuse these wines with Burgundy, or even a Californian winery emulating Burgundy. they have locked in on their style and are delivering on their concept.
Bright golden in the glass, the first whiff leaves no secrets as to what the wine is, with loads of sweet citrus and lemon curd as well as a moderate touch of toasty oak. This want to boisterous Californian sunshine in a glass, and it's hitting on all cylinders. The palate is lush and robust as expected, but isn't dominated by buttery creaminess, with the rich fruit instead supported by a surprising line of lemon zest that brings out tons of complex orange and white fruit tones and finishes, dare I say, quite light on its feet. A big wine that deserves to be paired with an equally big dish, like scallops in a butter sauce or salmon, but don't be afraid of enjoying the subtle character hiding beneath.
As we drift towards the tail end of Summer, the enthusiasm for Rose wines tends to tail off as well. Our selection definitely starts to dwindle when some of our more limited favorites start to sell through, but we never get bored with having a great selection. We enjoy recommending them well into the holidays for Thanksgiving and big family feasts as a great all-purpose wine, and the sturdy ones not only survive well into the next year but actually thrive and evolve over several years. These aren't wilting flowers like most mass marketed bottlings, but distinct and character-filled wines with serious personality. This has been a favorite for several vintages now, but was delayed coming over due to a logistical issue. Pierrevert is a small wine subregion in Provence rarely seen, mostly because there are only a few wineries that even exist there. The vineyards are based right at the North-Central edge of the appellation near the foot of the Alpes de Haut-Provence, giving them just as much mountain influence as they do Mediterranean. While we don't have any additional frame of reference from Pierrevert, we can definitely say that La Blaque represents the region as having something truly distinct about their wines.
Classic salmon color with a big whiff of strawberry leaves and dried watermelon and red fruits, but what has always separated this wine from the massive floods of other Provence Rose out there is the underlying, background aromas. Hints of anise and black spice, almost gamey as the wine breathes out in the glass, which sounds unusual in abstract but is delicious when it hits your senses. Think of the first time you tried grilled watermelon or peaches (or if you haven't, you REALLY need to try it this weekend!), and the contrast of juicy/sweet with the charred and caramelized grill marks. The palate is equally juicy and quenching, surprisingly softer on the acidity which really brings out the watermelon through to the finish. A dynamite picnic wine that works with fruit based and lighter savory dishes.
While warmer climates generally produce fruiitier and lower acidity wines than comparatively cooler ones, there are always tricks that can help a winery fight against those trends. Cooler sub-climates with windier conditions and less fertile soils can restrict a plants vigor, slowing the grape's sugar development which keeps their alcohol levels lower. Farming the vineyards organically or Biodnamically also lowers the plant's vigor, and when the plants are healthy result in big flavors without accompanying high alcohol levels. Why, you ask, would a winery try to make their wines that way? To many wine drinkers, the subtle flavors that make wines unique from each other from vineyard to vineyard are enhanced by that tingle of acidity, and a less heavy or boozy texture also lets that character though. Producers like Chateau de Roquefort are great examples of those beliefs, a long time independent producer that embraces those philosophies, and their wines are often heralded as standout wines in a region that has a reputation for widespread mediocrity.
A blend of Clairette and Vermentino, staples varieties of the Provence wine environment, this has an impressively fresh and expressive aroma of warm flowers, exotic oils, and fresh Mediterranean citrus. The palate surpasses the nose with a surprisingly round and lush mouthfeel (especially for a wine that weighs in at only 11.5%abv), bringing out loads of intensity to the citrus character, as well as a lengthy finish that shows absolutely zero signs of any sweetness. This could be (and often is from lesser producers) a wine that gets dismissed as watery and thin, lacking distinction. In the hands of such a dedicated producer they can get every last drop of energy out of their vineyards to make a wine that is every bit as fascinating as one from the more vaunted French regions. Pair this with a great seafood dish, someplace you would usually try a Muscadet or a Chablis.
Years ago when we first met the family and winemaker behind Lovingston (one of the few wineries where those two entities are still closely linked), the vision going foreward was as much about what they planned to do as it was what they did NOT want. Despite public pressure for certain styles and varieties of wines, they have always followed their own compass for what their vineyards will produce the best. How else would they have been able to make such an early move to planting Pinotage, now one of their flagship wines and one of the few standout producers of the variety in the country? After avoiding Chardonnay for nearly a decade, a half acre block was planted and the vines are now mature enough to create this stand-alone varietal wine, but as always the folks at Lovingston have put their own twist on it. Instead of oak barrels, Acacia wood barrels are used for aging, which provides a distinct aromatic while avoiding the typical toasty caramel notes from charred oak. This is a practice many white wine producers across the world have been doing when making wines that need some extra richness from time in barrel but still want more of the grape's natural perfume to show through.
Intensely golden color in the glass, the aromas are all creamy lemon curd and melon zest, with a slight woody note that calms down quickly as the wine opens up. In the mouth the texture and flavors are surprisingly rich and creamy without any butttery or charred flavors, almost a reduction sauce of lemon curd and grape must, but with plenty of citrus zest and acidity on the palate remaining to provide a long dried fruit finish. Fans of the more typical oak aged Chardonnay may feel like they are missing those flavors here, but if oak and butter are all you taste, the nature of the vineyard is lost. Acacia barrels provide a boost without obscuring what can make the wine distinct. And from Lovingston, distinct is what we want and expect.
Virginia is in a constant state of inventing and re-inventing its wine industry, constantly working to figure out what works consistently in our unique environment. Vidal Blanc is a hybrid grape variety that has tended to be a workhorse in Virginia as it has good durability to both heat and moist weather, and they tend to have higher volume of production per vine. The 'easy' route for the grape is to make semi-sweet to desert level wines and not really push the limit on experimentation, but thankfully some wineries like Early Mountain are looking beyond the norm. Inspired by the more bistro-styled and 'natural' wine makers, their 'Young Wine' series looks to make lower weight wines with less alcohol and up-front sweetness, and have pulled those characters from Vidal Blanc in surprisingly tasty fashion.
Light peach and pear aromas with hints of cooling citrus zest and wet stones call to mind some of the dry Chenin Blancs from the Loire, with no signs of any cloying sweetness anywhere on the radar. The palate is quenching and wet, plenty of fresh acidity present but gets amped up when it's fresh out of the refrigerator that brings out the white fruit and lemon juice tones. Nowhere from start to finish does the typical Vidal Blanc character show up, so nobody can be blase about saying they've had this before from someone else. This is a very individual wine from a Virginia producer that is beginning to show a broader spectrum of what our industry is capable of producing.
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!