Most wine drinkers are familiar with the more 'civilized' images of vineyards, with neat orderly rows of vines divided block by block into precise sections, maximizing each varietal to its fullest potential. This is the path of the modern winery, deservedly so in many ways, as it eliminates a lot of random variables and helps to create a more consistent wine for the consumer. Before this level of detail came into being, many family vineyards were planted to a multitude of grape varieties, propagated from the neighboring vine when needed, resulting in parcels with a hodge-podge of grapes that could vary row to row and even vine to vine. Wines were usually made by harvesting the entire parcel all at once, usually without sorting out the different varieties and vinifying them separately, using an 'everybody into the pool' mentality. The healthier, more successful grapes would eventually make up a larger portion over time, but the wines made this way have a distinct personality that's built over time. California is famous for the largely Zinfandel-based wines made from these types of vineyards, with several wineries (Ridge, Ravenswood, Limerick Lane, and Bedrock to name but a few favorites) making their name on preserving some of the oldest and most cherished sites in the country. A little less known are the field blends in Italy, where old family plots abound and 'house wines' like this are pictures of days gone by.
As a red wine from the Piedmont, this is primarily Barbera and Nebbiolo, which is to be expected. The unexpected comes fro the mix of other lesser red varietals that make their way to the tank in small amounts. Even a few dozen or so vines worth of white grapes make their way in, and make themselves immediately evident in the aroma with a peachy white citrus tone above the crunchy red fruits and black spices. The palate is silky and polished with lots of cranberry and higher toned red fruits, even a touch of apple skin tartness (probably also offered up from the white varieties in the mix), almost zesty and refreshing for a red wine. While not profound in any one way, it's definitely 'distinct' and deliciously enjoyable. Fans of wines like the long time store favorite Vajra Langhe Rosso (also from the Piedmont) will find a lot of kinship with this wine, and something fun to add to the weekly rotation.
Even though the vineyards and the grapes don't change from vintage to vintage, the styles of Bordeaux can change fairly dynamically due to climate. Perhaps more than any other wine region consumers worldwide keep track of the weekly weather data, looking for long term trends that shape the final character of the wine and not just major events that make more obvious and dramatic impact. 2015 is considered very highly and there are a lot of great wines from that vintage, but is also a very warm year with lots of ripe wines that tend towards more naturally high alcohol levels (approaching and exceeding 14% in most cases). 2014 was cooler throughout that pushed the harvest well into the Fall, worrisome to many that the grapes would ripen well enough to make even decent wines, but saved by a warm dry September that got most vineyards over the finish line. The late and longer ripening process also created wines with less natural alcohol and darker natural fruit character, delivering many wines that would fall into a more 'classic' style of Bordeaux. Fans of these types of wines will be very happy with 2014, not the least of which being the hype machine won't drive up their prices the way 2015s may tend to be. Which is great because you may prefer this style anyway!
Cabernet Sauvignon was the biggest beneficiary the the length and coolness of the 2014 vintage, and even though it makes up only about 20% of this blend, it plays a pretty distinctive role. Lots of cool currant, black cherry skin and pencil lead aromas with a slight tinge of cedar even though there is no oak aging involved here. The texture is delightfully polished with very fine natural tannins that hold the wine together quite nicely, if anything the oak would have dried out the wine a little too much. Savory fruit fills the mouth without feeling thick or saturated, sitting just on the edge of ripeness without any green notes, pushing all the way through the lively earthy finish. A classic dinner wine that doesn't need any extra time to cellar, tasting and feeling surprisingly ready to go without a whole lot of time open.
We have always organized the wine in our store based on region and country, believing strongly in the idea that where the wine is from, its 'terroir' and the culture, is one of the largest factors if not THE largest in determining the character of the wine. Where it sometimes fails us is when there are great varietal wines from an outlying area, somewhere that isn't famous for making wines from X grape so we may only have 1-2 examples. When people are looking for Pinot Noir, they gravitate towards the classic areas of Burgundy, California, and Oregon to browse through dozens of examples. Alto Adige? Italy? Never crosses most people's minds. But it should, and we need to direct more people over there to find it. The grape does have a strong history here in the cool mountain region, perhaps not to the great heights of quality as Burgundy, but as a solid and consistent daily drinker, which is what more Pinot Noir fans hope to find these days.
Built with more of an Old World style in mind, this only sees a little bit of time aged in oak, mostly stored in concrete tanks to allow the natural fruit and savoriness of the grape to shine through, and also lets the wine show deliciously from the very first pour. Dark cherry skin aromas and pomegranate pop from the glass immediately, with a background hint of earthy stems and clove that gives a nod to some time honored Burgundian characters. The palate shows more body than expected without sweetening the fruit flavors at all, balancing the feather soft tannins with a lively acidity that prickles the mouth. While this would never be confused with a blockbuster Cru Bourgogne, it would marry perfectly with some weekday dining that features something like lentils or wild mushrooms, something rustic and easy. Priced right so you don't have to make a big deal about opening it.
The Basque portion of Spain stands historically separate from most of Spain, both geographically and politically. Their culture and cuisine are world famous, but generally do not get as aggressively marketed and distributed around the world the way other parts of Spain do, and the wine is affected by that as well. So much of the local wines get consumed locally in the thriving dining culture around Bilbao and San Sebastian, you just don't see that many value versions, just a handful of elite producers whose wines aren't terribly expensive but do make the more casual drinker pause. Thankfully there are starting to be a few reasonably priced stars emerging like this one, giving consumers a chance to try wines from grapes like Hondarribi Zuri and the like.
In concept, this is the cultural twin to Muscadet in the French Loire; racy, clean and simple, built to compliment and not take center stage on its own. Pouring with a slight pinprick of SO2 bubbles, even less so than your typical Vinho Verde, the aromas are all green apples and fresh cut limes, perhaps even a hint of sea spray when the wine is a bit cooler. The palate is juicy and wet, a bit neutral on the first sip but builds the lime zest and crisp apple flavors the longer it sits in the mouth. The slight prickle from the gas hits the palate as well to pump up the zestiness, but dissipates within 10 minutes or so to give the wine a softer finish over time. Being under 12%abv one would think this could be containing some residual sweetness somewhere, but the grape ripens with low sugars naturally so this is delightfully dry throughout. One of the great food matches when paired with oily seafood dishes, sardines, octopus, and the like.
The Alfaro Family Vineyard & Winery sits near the top for us of a very short list of California producers that are still 'true' family run wineries and are still capable of delivering tremendous values. For over 20 years the family has owned and managed great parcels along the Santa Cruz Mountain chain, which in and of itself is often overlooked in California as one of the great sources for cooler climate influenced wines. The heavy fog blanket that rolls dramatically over the mountains on an almost daily basis cools the air and limits sun exposure, a huge contrast to the Santa Clara Valley below. The vineyards through here are scattered as optimum growing sites compete with real estate development and Forest conservation. Not much bulk wine available for making more value oriented wines, yet somehow Alfaro cobble together delicious, distinctive wines through their 'A' label series, even if it's only a few hundred cases at a time. This Syrah is borne from two parcels under the family's control, one of which is the source for their own single vineyard bottling and sold to other wineries for their own higher end projects. This is not a 'lesser' wine by taste, only by price.
A deep ruby color, from the first pour the aromatics of the wine show off the Northern Rhone inspirations with cool, smoky cherry, cracked black pepper, and raspberries off the vine. Minimal barrel aging gives only a tinge of toastiness to the nose, allowing the natural savory dark fruit of Syrah to shine through. Also as inspired by the wines of Crozes-Hermitage and St Joseph in the Rhone, the cooler temperature keeps the alcohol and weight of the wine down, letting the palate deliver the same savory character as the nose without any sweetness or alcoholic burn. The bright acidity even delivers a bit more gamey/bloody note and tartness to the dark fruits, and the surprisingly fine tannins are given extra texture from the wine being bottled unfiltered. This impressive, succulent red has lots of potential life ahead for those that like a bit more elegance in their Syrah, but at this price you can be impulsive and pull this for any great cookout or tailgate celebrations ahead when the meat is as good as the company.
The concept of 'skin contact white wines' is embraced by a lot of consumers as a 'new' trend that follows along with the naturalist wine movement, walking hand in hand with the more funky wine flavors. Truth be told, skin aging is traditional for many wine regions and varieties, you just notice it with your palate instead of your eyes. The grape skin is where the natural tannins exist, as well as the pigment to color the wine. Chardonnay has no pigment, for example, so you may not notice how many white Burgundy wines have skin contact involved until you taste them. There are also some grapes that have a slight pigment to them, and only when fully ripe, so you find a lot of examples of white wines without any or minimal skin contact. Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer both fall into this category, and while the rusty color wines are enjoying a resurgence, they always existed to an extent in places like Alsace and the cooler alpine regions of Italy. Fresh new eyes on these old styles make for exciting wines like this from store favorite Union Sacre, notoriously tinkering with small batches of California fruit from lesser known vineyards to make some fascinating juice.
Slightly copper colored (in a shiny penny way, not a dirty water way), the aromatic is pretty obviously Gewurztraminer with loads of wildflowers, ginger and spicy tropical fruit. The palate is rich and mouthfilling, but FAR from sweet; the 'sweetest' thing about this wine, in fact, is the 'peek-a-boo' style tattoo label only seen through the back of the clear bottle. Pretty awesome. The actual residual sugar level is quite low, and the skin contact brings out some tannic dustiness and quenching citrus pith to the finish. Very few domestic Gewurztraminers veer as far from the tropical sugar water model as this does, much more emblematic of a Cru Alsatian or a top Alto Adige producer. The nose says to pair with spicy Asian dishes, but the drier palate also gives room to rich or savory pork and poultry as well.
In a month or so, when Labor Day has passed and we are looking Fall fully in the face, many will start dreaming again about vacations on exotic beaches on far away islands (unless you are a big fan of Fall and love the cool temps and changing of the leaves, in which case you're all in). The Greek islands are a popular destination worldwide for island lovers, especially the group known as the Cyclades, known for equal parts beauty, history, and cuisine. These islands share similar soils and environment, so it isn't a surprise that the grapes used for winemaking are shared as well. Everyone wants their Assyrtiko white wine to be from Santorini or Mykonos because that is where they visited and had the most memorable times, but great versions exist across the island chain like this one from Paros. While a lesser known part of the Cyclades, the wines here are among their best, and this single vineyard bottling sits among the best examples from the island.
Named for the famous Paros beach that sits just below the vineyard, the Sarakiniko site has unique volcanic soil that brings low ph but infuses the wines with intense natural minerality. The Assyrtiko grape is naturally high in acid so it doesn't need any help getting there from the soil. White there is a touch of grassiness on the nose similar to Sauvignon Blanc (the grape Assyrtiko is most commonly compared to), the aromas are more warm white fruit, sea spray and wet rocks. Many versions of the grape along the Cyclades can run off-dry to fairly sweet (to lure in the tourist like the Siren's song), this example is quite dry, bursting on the palate with full zesty white fruit, citrus skin, piercing mouthwatering acidity and a lengthy tingly finish. The richness and complexity born from the single site puts this well beyond the basic cocktail white, built for oily Mediterranean cuisine or pork/poultry with lots of garlic and herbs.
Pinot Blanc originated in Burgundy, according to lore, as mutations of Pinot Noir that would happen at random in the vineyards. Once the vines changed from red to white, that vine and and grafts cut from it would forever be white, and over time Pinot Blanc came into being in France and eventually appeared across much of Europe (also called Weissburgunder). In most places it is looked at as more of a workhorse grape going into blends or sparkling wines because of its high natural acidity, but every once in a while you can find a producer that prizes their parcel a little more than others. Eyrie Vineyards is the oldest of the Old Guard in Oregon, planting their first vineyards in 1965 and still possess some of the oldest Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vines in the country. While Pinot Blanc was not among their earliest plantings, it is well established in several parcels among their Dundee Hills vineyards and considered on the very short list of Pinot Blancs made outside Europe.
Pale in color and fairly quiet aromas in the glass at first, with soft peach and pear fruit with some orange citrus tones initially, with some time open there can be a bit of spice and slightly richer fruit emerging. In general, though, Pinot Blanc main appeal isn't a big perfume; we will leave that to the Gewurztraminers and Pinot Gris of the world. The palate is where the variety stands tallest, loaded with quenching acidity over the tangy stone fruits and a mouthwateringly long finish with endless prickles of zest and melon skin. The age of the vines and the lengthy lees aging is quite evident, and truly necessary, providing vital fruit texture in the mouth that would leave the wine a bit shrill if it wasn't there. Acid fans will love this, but it won't scare away too many fans of fruit forward wines either. A great Summer treat to pair with fresh fish and seafood dishes without too much weight or briny tones, like trout, catfish, or your more simply prepared white fish fillets.
Sometimes Virginia wineries are looked at in a negative light for making very similar cookie cutter style wines. It can be difficult to venture too far away from what 'sells' in order to try something even a little outside the norm. But different can result in a move to something better, especially for a smaller winery trying to stand out. When we tasted on this most recent vintage of Chardonnay from Knight's Gambit, produced from fruit off their estate near Lake Albemarle, we were struck by how much of a Burgundian influence it carried. A reserved hand on the oak treatment is at odds with the usual route of oaky/buttery style looking to emulate the Californian prototype. Now while we don't have the soil types to bring out the vibrant minerality of say a Chablis or the subtle nuances of Meursault or Montrachet, the the warmth and zest of a quality Maconnais is fully proper and this wine takes on that style extremely well.
From the first pour there is lots of aromatic white fruits and zesty citrus on the nose with only the slightest hint of toasty barrel, nothing that needs time to 'blow off' as the wine opens up. Lots of freshness and energy here that speaks of warmth without getting into the tropical or sweeter fruit characters, and the energy carries over to the palate as well. There is a roundness here, but not from a buttery weight that saturates the palate, instead from purity of the fruit that gives loads of fresh citrus and clarity to the finish. This is the wine you want to take to friends that don't want to try wines from Virginia because they've had 2-3 and think they know what they are all about. Prove them wrong!
Getting off our little summertime Riesling kick from the last few weeks, but still looking to enjoy a great wine to chill down for hot weather with a bit of obscurity this time. The Savoie region is off the traditional tourist line for French travelers, unless you are looking for spectacular mountain scenery, in which case it's one of the great alpine wine regions of the world. The wines are also becoming more popular with drinkers looking for lower alcohol options. Based along the Swiss border (the closest and most influential major city by a wide margin is Geneva) the region's most important grape by volume is Jacquere, a variety that rarely gets planted anywhere in the world except upon these mountainous vineyard sites. Apremont and Abymes are the two most important sites here, somewhat morbidly named in honor of a terrible landslide off of Mont Granier that buried several villages and thousands of villagers nearly 800 years ago. Apremont (the 'bitter mountain') sits at the higher elevation along the mountain, and this bottling takes advantage of some of the higher parcels to catch precious extra hours of sunlight each season, milking out every last drop of ripeness and intensity that can be found in the delicate Jacquere grape. This 'intensity', of course, is all relative.
If you ever heard the word 'crystalline' to describe a wine and wondered what they meant by it, this is the perfect example of that term. Clear light gold in color, the aromas are mostly fresh white fruits with hints of zest and musky melon rind, but all at a very low volume of intensity. The palate is crystalline, and there just isn't any way of getting around that word, with the freshness like mountain stream water punctuated with citrusy acidity that leaves your mouth watering for minutes afterwards. At barely over 10%abv, your first instinct is to think the wine is hiding some residual sugar somewhere. For this grape in this environment it just ripens without much sugar, so this is completely dry and the weight is purely from quality natural ripeness. This is about as refreshing a wine as you can find out there, excellent with a chill to it and ideal with summer salads and cooled seafood dishes.
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!