Archive for July, 2018

Here are FOUR very interesting wines that not too many wine buyers would go looking for in a wine store, but I would say, each are worth experiencing. I had my first Irouléguy and Cahors in the 1980’s and my first Zweigelt in the early 1990’s AND, I still keep going back for more. Why? Because each are unique, interesting and authentic wines, which shed a very different light on what wine can be and each is from a family owned and run wine estate. I find it so fascinating when a winery incorporates the family’s culture and heritage into what they do, especially when new generations tweak without taking away from the integrity, typicity and soul of the wine. Please join us on this journey.

2015 Arretxea Irouléguy–66% Tannat, 17% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  This masculine, savage, wildly rustic, savory red from the Basque area of southwestern France is a unique, authentic, family owned project reminiscent of the old days & ways.   Their steep, terraced land is amid beautifully lush wildflowers, set against the white peaks of the Pyrénées,The sandstone soils of Irouléguy are ideal for these grapes because they are streaked with iron oxide, mica, silica, limestone, clay, and dolomite. The mineral diversity lends an intensity to the wines, making them wild, earthy, tannic, and rich in spicy aromas.”

2015 Château La Grave Cahors–100% Malbec.  Cahors is the ancestral home of the Malbec grape variety.   Historically A.O.C. Cahors is known as the “black wine” of the Southwest—deeply inky, hearty, earthy wines”.

2013 Sattler Zweigelt “Reserve”–How often does one get to sample a top Austrian red wine?  “Zweigelt is Austria’s most widely planted red variety. It is is a cross of two traditional Austrian varieties St.Laurent and Blaufränkisch and produces some of Austria’s most interesting red wines. In this case, the estate vineyards are located around the village of Tadten in the winegrowing district of Neusiedlersee. Tadten is part of an enormous gravel bar that stretches more than five kilometers and the soils are therefore mineralic and layered with gravel, brown earth and occasionally sand”.

2010 Château Moulin “Canon-Fronsac”A throwback in style to the Old Days, when Bordeaux reds smelled and tasted like Bordeaux wines. This bottling is 100% Merlot grown in the clay limestone soils of Canon-Fronsac on the Right Bank of Bordeaux.

 

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Jul
16

A Tasting of Pinot Noir

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Last night we did a tasting of Pinot Noirs with the VINO staff & some of our wine friends.  We served the wines BLIND (again, not to guess anything, but instead just to assess the wine–whether it was good or not–why/why not–……how much would you pay retail for it……& what kinds of foods would it work with & why).   This was fun & quite insightful.  It is amazing what side by side tastings can help reveal.  (FYI–I eliminated those that didn’t show so well in this blog, just to keep things positive).

2016 CF Wines Pinot Noir “Santa Maria Valley”–The 2016 has just arrived into Hawaii & this was the first time our staff actually tried the wine.  Like the 2015, it was light in color–one could readily see through the wine–, had wonderfully alluring perfume (although there was fruit smells, it definitely had an underlying minerality/earth core, especially on the palate).  Yes, this wine was quite ethereal, savory, remarkably light on the palate, though very compelling, lovely, delicious, seamless AND UN-oaky, UN-heavy, UN-alcoholic–& therefore ideal with a wide range of foods it could work with.  I was very proud of the wine, & even more so because everyone liked it so much.  In fact, for many, it was the wine of the night, which was saying a lot, given the incredible line-up.  Thank you Gary Burk of Costa de Oro again for another wonderful vintage.  (I believe the first vintage was 2002 & with each vintage, the outcomes just seems to be getting better & better.  I really don’t completely understand how Gary does it!)

2012 Neely Pinot Noir “Spring Ridge Vineyard–Hidden Block” –while this wine was quite masculine & savory in style, it displayed a surprisingly light hue, which was very different than the last time I had had it.  It had dark kinds of fruit with a stoniness/base notes in the core, was seamless, suave & a wonderful drink.  On this night, this bottling showed so much better than what I have experienced from previous vintages, which were also very good, especially for the dollar.  It was also a popular selection on the night from the tasters.  (3 acres–roughly 700 feet in elevation, planted in 1997–Dijon clone 115–fractured sedimentary soils, no irrigation, NO herbicides/pesticides, wild yeast fermented, bottled unfiltered, unfined, for all 405 cases).

2016 Camino Pinot Noir “Umino Vineyard”–this is the handiwork & own project of Tadeo Borchart, winemaker of Neyers Vineyards.  The grapes come from Umino Vineyard in the Sebastopol Hills appellation, a very cool hillside (11 acres planted in 1996/1997 to Dijon clones & #459. though I am not sure what Tadeo actually gets) within the Sonoma Coast AVA.  This wine was not as showy as one would expect from Dijon clones & this neck of the woods, but that’s just Tadeo’s style.  Tasters all agreed it was very enjoyable–suave, classy & VERY well balanced, something to be thankful for in these parts & these days.

2016 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir “Willamette Valley”–When we opened Sansei in Seattle in I believe 2015, we made sure we included their wine onto the small, but well selected winelist.  While in Seattle recently, I was reminded this to be one of the hotshot wineries from Oregon by 2 of the finest wine stores there.  So, I bought a bottle to try.  The Oregon wines we had previously admired included top end projects such as Evening Land, Chapter 24 & more recently Lingua Franca, each interestingly feature superstar French consultants such as Dominique Lafon & Louis Michel Liger-Belair, as well as highly revered American wine professionals such as Master Sommelier Larry Stone, Rajat Parr & winemaker Sashi Moorman.  I originally searched out Big Table Farm because winemaker Brian Marcy did a stint at Neyers winery in the Napa Valley, a winery who does things in the vineyard & winery with Old World sensibilities & uber-sustainably.   NO big press & NO big star power, just a couple set to own an actual working farm, complete with animals & respect for the land, to which they added a winery.  (Maybe it was wine first, then came the farm).  The perfume was pretty, nuanced, alluring & compelling rather than showy or oaky.  On the palate, we loved the elegance, grace, transparency & balance of the wine.  It was delicious & very intriguing in a more civil, well balanced style.   This style of wine sometimes gets overlooked in side by side comparative tastings, especially ones like this with so many quality minded wines.  It grabbed my attention!

2016 Rose & Arrow Estate Pinot Noir “1st Highland Close–Chehalem Mountain”–I originally opened a single vineyard Oregon Pinot Noir for this slot, but was shaken in disbelief how much VA the wine overtly displayed, UNTIL I realized it was “barrel sample”.  My mistake.  (Barrel samples should be consumed as early on as possible, especially those using little sulfur).  So, to remedy the situation, I grabbed this bottle of wine, as I was scrambling around, searching for something to fill the slot.  In short, this wine was a revelation.  I was really taken by its supreme elegance, grace, class, texture & balance.  While the others tasted really good, this was CRU quality…..majestic & highly sophisticated.  I previously did not know what I was opening, so you can imagine my surprise & thrill after popping it open & tasting it!  OMG.  The “1st Highland Close” bottling is from 1.88 acres–very rocky & higher elevations–in the Chehalem Hills & crafted by team Chapter 24.  346 cases.

2014 Denis Jamain Reuilly Rouge–The appellation of Reuilly is located in the Central Vineyards of France’s Loire Valley.  Its nearby neighbors include the more recognizable Sancerre & Pouilly Fume.  Interestingly, one of Reuilly’s other neighbors, Quincy, was the 2nd appellation approved by the French government in the 1936 AOC declaration (even before anything from Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne!).  The point being, this area has been noted for growing & making noteworthy wines for quite some time.  I would add to that, that the notoriety was more for the white wines back then, pre-“warming of the planet” & its effects of more sun drenched vintages & therefore the increase in frequency of red wine production & the subsequent higher acclaim.  While the soils of Sancerre & Pouilly Fume are a mix of limestone, sand, gravel & marl to the clay, Jamain’s Reuilly vineyards feature Kimmeridgian limestone soils, very similar in profile to those found in Chablis.  As wine lovers well know, the white wines of Chablis, at its best, offer such purity, divine minerality, etherealness & lightness on the palate, so very different from the other Burgundy Chardonnays to the south.  Jamain’s Reuilly similarly offers this kind of character in their white wines, intertwined with the traits of Sauvignon Blanc.  On the red side, their Pinot Noir based reds similarly are light colored & weighted, more ethereal, leaner, firmer, lower in alcohol & therefore much more quaffable & food friendly in style.  Not for everyone, but certainly a treat for us to try.

2015 Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder “Ahr”–I vividly remember my first experience with this producer & his wines back in the late 1980’s, they were that good!  I was also quite in awe when I traveled there in the early 1990’s when seeing their vineyards & just talking story with Werner.  While many of the top echelon of German winemakers have a real precise, more scientific edge, I instantly found Werner Näkel, to be more engaging, which makes sense since he was previously a school teacher before taking over the reins of this iconic estate.  That first encounter was, in fact, a big welcome party, complete with a big tent, lots of wine, simple pupus & lots of talking story & laughter with at least 50 to 60 people.  I was again quite taken by his Pinots, & on this night, especially his “S” bottling.  These were definitely wines to be taken seriously, at a time when German Pinot Noir was almost as a novelty, with exceptions from Joachim Heger from Baden & Paul Fürst from Franconia.  Meyer Näkel is located in the Ahr region, the most northerly of all of the winegrowing regions of Germany.  They have 3 noteworthy Cru vineyards–2 featuring some blue slate to the base & the other gray slate to the base.  That is why I often get a slate-y character in the wines & the wines over all have a distinct minerality to them.  Werner was selected 2004 “Gault Millau Winemaker of the Year” & deservedly so.  The wines feature a masculinity in their core, but are nonetheless seamless & well balanced.

2014 François Lumpp Givry Premier Cru, “Petit Marole”–François Lumpp is located in Givry within the Côte Chalonnaise of Burgundy, France.  Because of the ever rising prices of the noteworthy Pinot Noir based red wines, especially from the Côte de Nuits & its iconic villages such as Chambolle Musigny, Gevrey Chambertin & Vosne Romanee, we are always looking elsewhere & digging around for gems, which offer quality at more affordable prices.  Here is one which recently came on to our radar screen.  While, this wine will never be confused with any of these more renown, iconic villages by any means, one can’t help but appreciate the wonderful transparency, pretty & ethereal qualities of this wine.  Yes, I adore Pinots which are alluring, classy, refined & delicately nuanced.  This is that kind of wine AND we were all quite surprised at its reasonable price.

2015 Ganevat Pinot Noir “Cuvée Julien”–“Jean-François Ganevat is a master of his craft, one of the true magicians of the eclectic. To say that his grapes are spun into gold would not be far from the truth; they are entirely otherworldly.”  Ganevat works with vineyards in the Jura region of eastern France, each at varying elevation, steepness grades & facings.  I therefore thought why not throw in one of his extremely hard to get wines just to provide a different perspective & hopefully create a stir.  Cuvée Julien comes from a 7 hectare parcel of limestone-clay, which was planted in 1977.  Its done via whole cluster & aged for 12 months in oak.  The resulting wine is NOT oaky, but one can readily tell it is framed by oak.  This wine has a mesmerizing purity/transparency, wonderful, soothing texture, bountiful sublime nuances which just appears with each swirl & sip.   Yes, this was a wine to behold & I think referring to it as entirely otherworldly is most apropos.

2000 François Jobard Blagny “La pièce sous le bois”–François Jobard has been one of my favorite producers out of Burgundy for a long time, though mainly for his Cru white Meursaults.  Over the years he also produced this bottling of red wine, which was always hit or miss for me.  It wasn’t about the quality of what’s in the bottle at all.  I find/found this bottling to be very moody with more downs than ups.  Someone in the know once lamented to me that this wine just doesn’t travel well at all.  Makes sense to me, because usually when I taste it, it is so closed & unforgivingly hard, even more so than their white wines can be.  On the other hand, I once tried a 1996, which was re-released from the winery in the mid to late 2000’s that I thought to myself–“finally”!  Well, unfortunately the other 11 bottles of the case, were closed & hard.  There is no doubt the wine has vinosity & complexities, but they are so hidden.  I even had a 2002 & a 1995 in the past couple of weeks & walked away scratching my head in bewilderment.  The 2000, on the other hand, on this night was halfway open.  It had a murky, masculine, tight fisted perfume that I thought was captivating once the bottle stink aired away.  In the mouth, it was NOT welcoming or delicious in any sense, but this wine had good structure, vinosity in the core & was finely detailed, just tight fisted & still quite hard.  The partially open nose still made it a wine well worth trying.  Sadly this vineyard has been redone with Chardonnay, so whatever bottles are out there is the last of this bottling.  Thank you Helen & Brent for sharing.  I always love the opportunity to try a wine from François Jobard.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Jul
16

Old World Classics

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The wine world has greatly changed over the past twenty years and will continue to change as time rolls on. The lines of typicity and authenticity for each region, each wine is getting blurred by the dramatic improvements both in working the vineyards and in the winery. What are classic wines today? Here are four that we think fit the bill. We will serve them blind, just for fun! Please join us on this journey.

2014 Domaine de Durban Beaumes de Venise–We thought this wine was important to show because of it’s wonderful savoriness.  We find savoriness can very important when considering food pairing.  The Leydier family took over this ancient site in the 1960’s.  Although located in France’s southern Rhone Valley, their Grenache based red wines (this one  typically roughly 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah & 5% Mourvedre) are very different from the other, more famous villages, partly because of the grape mix, the vineyard’s soils & special microclimate.  “To walk through the high-altitude vineyards at Domaine de Durban is to walk through an astounding span of history. On the site of a former Roman healing springs destination, a mere handful of soil reveals well-preserved, ancient Roman roof tiles and medieval pot shards. The domaine and its vineyards sit atop a picturesque plateau in the Vaucluse, sheltered by the Dentelles de Montmirail, just above of the village of Beaumes-de-Venise.   A constellation of fortune seems to converge at this particular spot. Pine trees protect the area from the intensity of the persistent mistral. The soils are rich and deep, with clay, limestone, and the soft, ochre Trias, (quite different from the flatter, lower elevation vineyards of sand, clay & galet stones of the neighboring villages), lending finesse and freshness to their wines. The high altitude in the vineyards means a slightly cooler microclimate with strong sun exposure, a blessing that the Leydiers credit for the amazing consistency their wines enjoy year after year“.

2005 López de Heredia Rioja Reserva “Bosconia”–this truly iconic Rioja estate is one of the few who still follow the traditions which Rioja is historically world renown for.  This family has preserved for over 130 years of running this estate & their inclusive vineyards, the 2 most notable–Bosconia & Tondonia.  This 2005 Bosconia is classic Rioja–Tempranillo (80% or so), Garnacho (15% or so), Mazuelo and Graciano, spending 5 years in barrel.  It’s no wonder that this venerable Rioja star & its Tempranillo based reds in all its glory, is the rage among the sommelier community across the country.

2012 A & G Fantino Barolo “Dardi”–we were so thankful this estate came on our radar screen.  For me, it is getting harder & harder to find small, artisan Barolo-ists like this, who own & farm these kinds of special vineyard parcels & grow & craft more classical styled wines with this kind of pedigree, old style typicity, authenticity & personal touch.   In addition, their wines have a wonderful purity/transparency & though quite masculine in its core, they still offer elegance & refinement, rather than being coarse, (especially in its youth), surprisingly accessible (without the use of roto fermentors) & controversially rustic.  “The Fantinos are also blessed with some of the oldest vines in the entire Barolo zone, thanks to the fastidious care given to them by Alessandro and Gian Natale. Planted in 1946 and 1947 and pruned in an old style that is very labor intensive. Barolos from Bussia tend to have deep color and rich fruit and while they don’t lack the classic tannic structure of Nebbiolo from this part of the world, they are not nearly as hard as the Barolos from the southside of Monforte or from Serralunga”.

2015 Faury St Joseph–we absolutely love the nose of this wine-exotically perfumed, gamey, peppery & lavender scented–as it does capture the core of what the Syrah grape variety can be.  The vines were planted in 1979 & 2007 on steep terraced hillsides.  “The steep slopes of the northern Rhône present a challenging terrain where farming is only feasible through terracing. On these terraced slopes, the Faurys’ vines take full advantage of the southern and southeastern sun exposure, benefitting from optimum ripening.  A combination of the predominately granitic soil, partial de-stemming (in about 70% of the grapes), soft crushing of the grapes with a pneumatic press, and temperature controlled fermentation offer a liveliness and freshness that one does not often find in wines from the northern Rhône.  There’s a real attention to detail here, and nothing is done in haste.  Every method used encourages the grape towards greatness with the ultimate respect for its fragility.  Pigeage, the punching of the cap, is not carried out with tools, but gently by foot – not just poetic but also pragmatic.  Unlike many other vignerons in the region, the Faurys have a strong aversion to new oak. Though the reds definitely see time in barrels, there is a rotation between new and old alike, along with a variety of sizes, ranging from the smaller barriques to the larger 600-liter demi-muids. 

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Jul
15

A Quartet of Tuscan Sangiovese

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Back in the 1970’s, when I was just getting into wines, Tuscany had its share of controversy. In America, because of the great notoriety the name Chianti had, its straw flask and often elaborate/twisted shaped bottles, Chianti was synonymous with Italian red wine for the dinner table. Soon there was a sea of plonk coming out of the region to feed the HUGE demand. It was the tireless crusading of regional champions like Piero Antinori and the emergence of superstar winemaking and grape growing consultants, which thankfully moved Tuscany from misery and lackluster to superstardom once again. The quality pendulum then swung to the far side with the extreme use of Cabernet Sauvignon and new French barrique to the point where the resulting wines could be confused as not tasting Italian. The Sangiovese grape variety can fade into the background, I have found, with as little as 15% Cabernet blended in. So, where is the median, that point where better grape growing and winemaking can produce something noteworthy, yet still Tuscan? That was inspiration for this tasting! 

2012 Poggio Scalette Chianti Classico–Back in the 1970’s, we saw the emergence of consulting enologists, especially in Tuscany, and we subsequently witnessed a rise in the quality of the Tuscan wines. One of the three most prominent stars was Vittorio Fiore. Poggio Scalette is his own most prized property (today run by his son Jurg). It is located in Ruffoli, 1400 feet up above the town of Greve & its very rocky soils. It is truly a magnificent vineyard, whose grapes are done with elegance, refinement and class, while still be thankfully true to its Italian heritage.  Their 2012 Chianti Classico is 100% Sangiovese di Lamole, 10 months in cement, to highlight this wonderful heirloom vine which is grown in this very special site. 

2010 Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico “Riserva”–This estate produces wines of sheer elegance and class, while still being vehemently Tuscan. Here is the highly acclaimed 2010–97% Sangiovese, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in clay, silt, sand, limestone soils.  90%–20 months in 500L & 10% 225L French barrels (15% new) AND then an additional 12 months in 12HL & 20HL botti. 

2010 Villa Artimino Carmignano–Carmignano was granted DOC in 1975 & then DOCG status in 1990 and is today one of Italy’s smallest DOCG’s, roughly 270 acres planted and only twelve or so producers. It was also one of the original appellations permitted to use (up to 10 to 20%) Cabernet Sauvignon and later Cab Franc, in their blends. Here is one of the top estates.  “Villa Artimino is truly a historical site. There is a rich history on this property dating back to the Renaissance period, when ancients such as Galileo & da Vinci once visited. And it is here that Italy’s 1st wine was produced under the DOC rules (which was Carmignano, the answer to a wine-geeky trivia question!) back in 1716”. 

2009 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva “Poggio al Sorbo”–When I was growing up in this industry, Fontodi was one of the two Tuscan standouts others were measured by, showcasing the world class skill of then pioneering consultant Franco Bernabei. Rather than resting on its laurels, this venerable estate is producing their best wines of all time. Here is their highly acclaimed 2009 Riserva “Poggio al Sorbo”–I was told 100% Sangiovese (their own heirloom vine), 24 months in Troncais & Allier barrique, 50% new.  94/95 point rating.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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The illustrious Domaine Tempier has shown that the Mourvedre grape variety can result in something special and soulful, all in a very unique manner. While many others have valiantly tried to grow and produce another rendition of that top rung, somehow the results don’t offer the same kind of magic. Still, because of the limited availability and rising prices of the Tempier Bandol, we continue to look. Here are four new standouts, maybe not quite at the level of Tempier, but certainly very interesting in its own right and well worth checking out! Join us on this search! 

2013 Chateau La Roque Mourvedre “Vieilles Vignes”–Here is yet another completely different take on what the Mourvedre grape variety can be. While Mourvedre seems to flourish in the soils and climates of southern France, especially in a wild countryside with clay/limestone soils and a fierce mistral wind to keep vines healthy. To really make superb renditions, however, one has to really almost coddle and nurture this vine and it is not as easy as one would think. Well, since the Romans cleared and planted this vineyard way back when, one can say, the vine has had hundreds of years to prove its worth. If it didn’t result in something special it would have been long gone.

2012 Domaine du Joncier Lirac “Les Muses”–Here is a completely different “look” to what this grape variety can be.  “The estate’s terraced vineyards of alluvial soil and galets roulés mirror Châteauneuf’s terraces right across the river. Cuvée Les Muses, an inky blend made predominately with Mourvèdre, which owner/winemaker Marine Roussel masterfully crafts into a masculine, suave red wine of wonderful balance, purity and minerality—a noble, if not challenging, goal given the sunbaked terroirs she farms”.

 

2013 Domaine de la Tour du Bon Bandol–Who says the Mourvedre grape variety can only produce, hearty, masculine, rugged wines? Here is the proof that does NOT have to be so.  “Domaine de la Tour du Bon rests peacefully atop a limestone plateau in Le Brûlat du Castellet, in the northwestern corner of the A.O.C. Bandol. Nestled beneath the mountains to the North, it is a bastion of tranquility, an oasis on the Mediterranean surrounded by beautiful gardens and vineyards.   Today, Agnès Henry runs the show, crafting wines with power and precision, but also finesse and charm. Who better to understand how to make the wine than the person who knows the story of the land the best?   Fourteen hectares of red earth, clay, sand, and gravel rest upon sturdy limestone bedrock. Brow-beating excavation and focused determination alone have built these vineyards”.

2008 Domaine du Gros Noré Bandol–We end this tasting with a slightly aged Mourvedre beast—the wild side of what this variety can be.  “Alain Pascal could be a character pulled right out of a Marcel Pagnol novel—a kind of Provençal Hercules. He is a strong, husky man with hands the size of bear claws. That he is a former boxer and an avid hunter should be no surprise, yet his physique matches both his spirit and his wine—this gentle giant and his cuvées are all heart. Kermit–“Magnificent Bandols made in the simplest manner, très franc de goût, with a whole lotta soul.”.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Jul
07

BYOB Chardonnay Tasting

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On this night, tasters, mainly our VINO staff, brought an assortment of Chardonnays just to try side by side.  Since it was a group tasting, we asked everyone to add in their 2 cents, so we could all learn together as group, from the wines & each other’s comments.  Thank you Keith for hosting this wonderful learning opportunity.

Here is the list of wines everyone brought–

2010 Ridge Chardonnay “Monte Bello”; 2015 Ballard Lane Chardonnay: 2015 Foxen Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard–UU Block”; 2014 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Santa Barbara”; 2007 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard”; 2013 Jean-Paul Brun Beaujolais Blanc; 2015 Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon Chardonnay “Clos de la Crochette”; 2016 William  Fèvre Chablis “Champs Royaux”; 2104 Savary Chablis “Vieilles Vignes”; 2010 Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin Chablis Premier Cru “Vaillons”; 2012 Robert Denogent Pouilly Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes–La Croix”; 2004 Cherisey Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru “La Genellotte”; 1996 François Jobard Meursault Premier Cru “Genevrières”.  Yes, lots of highly rated wines!  Thank you all for sharing.

Here are some of my highlights.

The 2010 Ridge Chardonnay “Monte Bello” (roughly $80 a bottle retail–92 to 94 point ratings)–showed lots of blatant, toasty oak/hazelnut (with apparent American oak pungency) notes right out of the gates.  Well made, good flow, structure, stony, surprisingly light on its feet (in comparison to what the nose forewarned), oak framed with prominent alcohol in the finish (more than the 14.4% shown on the label).  A question mark purchase for me after seeing the price.  2015 Foxen Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard–UU Block” (roughly $40 retail–rated 90 points)–reminiscent of the region’s old guard & therefore balance & mineral driven, more so than expensive oak,  flashiness & alcohol.  This wine showed a better finish & therefore was much more palatable than the previous 2.  Surprisingly elegant, though forward with well integrated oak & high lemon like acidity (almost too much so for some tasters).  It is also a peculiar combination of stony, fresh steamed rice nuanced & an old fashion pungency (the latter I sometimes get from Santa Maria Valley old vine clone 4).  Interestingly, the 2014 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Santa Barbara” (roughly $22 retail–88 points)–was much more seamless from beginning to end, classy, better textured & more complete than the previous 3 wines.  Tasting these wines side by side was really eye opening & made me appreciate the Au Bon Climat winemaking even that much more.  While it wasn’t grand or anything of the sorts, it displayed sublime minerality, grace, deliciousness & real value.  2007 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard” (roughly $35 retail–88 points)–there is no doubt this was by far the most compelling of the Californian Chardonnays we sampled on this night.  By far!  The wine had mesmerizing vinosity, minerality & mojo, like one would expect from a Cru bottling with superb texture, seamlessness, balance & class. We hear more & more rumblings of how ABC has seen their best days or their production is way too high to make top echelon wines.  This bottling clearly shows otherwise……AND, at 11 years old.  What a wine!  Thank you Erica & Jamm for sharing.

We then segued into Chardonnays from Burgundy, France.  While on paper the list looked impressive & interesting, I scratched my head in wonderment as I felt some of them greatly under delivered.  Still, tasting these wines side by side turned out to be quite the learning experience–which made some wines really shine & others not.  (We didn’t do the tasting blind, in order to make the experience less intimidating for the new attendees).

The 2016 William Fèvre Chablis “Champs Royaux” was a real surprise, as it perennially receives media high praise, is surprisingly reasonably priced & has wide appeal.  The 2016 features a pretty floral, seashell & mineral scented nose with a delicious, rounder than expected mouthfeel.  In comparison, the 2104 Savary Chablis “Vieilles Vignes” was a Chablis of wonderful, sheer etherealness & mesmerizing, pristine purity.  The finesse, vinosity, delicate intricacies carry through on the palate, done with great class & truly remarkable lightness/airiness.  WOW!  The 2012 Robert Denogent Pouilly Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes–La Croix” also showed exceptionally well on this night.  Much richer, seemingly riper & therefore more showy than the preceeding Chablis born wines, this La Croix vineyard (but 2 hectares of 80 year old vines) bottling had prominent & captivating vinosity & character done with superb texture, balance & class.  Stellar!  I distinctly remember the 2004 Cherisey Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru “La Genellotte” upon its release, mostly because how much I loved this newly discovered domaine for me & its wines.  Theirs was very reminiscent of the old style of artisan white Burgundy I grew up with.  It was vehemently masculine, virile & seemingly like a chiseled block of rock……with a resounding oak thread framing it.  I remember thinking, “I wish I could taste this wine again when it is 20 years old!”  On this night, it was but 14 years of age & I was quite stunned at how beautiful, seamless & stunning it truly evolved to be in the bottle with age.   I understand & appreciate that it is a VERY unique style & therefore VERY different from the more highly acclaimed domaines such as Coche Dury, Ente & Roulot.  And, I am most thankful for the difference, because it is so good, artisan & unique.  (Thank you Cheryle for sharing!)   The shining star of the evening for me was the 1996 François Jobard Meursault Premier Cru “Genevrières” (thank you VERY much Jamm & Erica for sharing).  I also remember having this wine upon release.  It was unbelievably tight fisted & hard.  (I think this style has held them back from gaining the true acclaim they profoundly deserve).  I also remember thinking, I can’t wait to try this wine again when it is 25 years old.  Here it was  23 years old…..in all its glory.  For me, this was having a grand wine at an ideal point of its life.  (I should also mention, that in the early days, I thought their Premier Cru Charmes parcel was their showpiece.  While it still is so very impressive, I find their Genevrières to be worthy of Grand Cru level quality & this wine clearly shows why).

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Jul
02

Italian Barbera

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In the old days I would stumble upon a Piemontese Barbera & think to myself imagine the possibilities of what can be.  Barbera can produce & make really interesting AND food friendly red wine.  One of the big challenges it faced was living in the shadow of the highly esteemed Nebbiolo…..the grape variety used to produce Barbaresco & Barolo.  It was, after all, these appellations & wines which would draw so much fanfare within & to the region, even before their regional truffle came onto the mass American radar screen. 

Because of this, many of the finest sites (& MUCH attention) was devoted to Nebbiolo.  If Nebbiolo fared well in a spot, it was planted.  If it didn’t, then other indigenous grape vines were planted–Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino, Ruche, Croatina AND Barbera, just to name a few.

While those “other” grape varieties can be interesting & a really good drink, Barbera for me, was a possible though distant heir apparent to the throne.  It was capable of making interesting wine which could have character, mojo, tremendous food friendliness AND, it was much easier to grow.

The real challenge is Barbera actually likes to over produce.  It grows & loves to grow.

One of the secrets then is how does one harness its energy & attributes–essentially tame it, first in the vineyard & then in the winery.

I would further add that Piemonte is also the home to some of the world’s finest truffle.  Their vines therefore share the same soils as their truffle.  While, one may not get a “truffle”-ness in the wines, in my opinion, I find similar kind of pungency & savoriness in their core & that is another reason why good renditions can work well at the dining table.

Two of the early champions for me of this grape variety were the Coppo brothers with their Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” & Giacomo Bologna with his Braida Barbera d’Asti “Bricco dell’ Uccellone”.  Both created quite the sensation & really made others rethink what this grape variety could be.  Needless to say, the category grew in availability here in the U.S., in most cases however, with either wines overdone or wines that seemed like they were secondary to the winery–something I consider when buying each bottle & from each producer.

There are some very good Barbera out there that will show you what can be, but one just has to be very selective.  Here are several we tasted recently which are well worth checking out. 

Elvio Tintero Rosso–this bottling is not 100% Barbera.  It is also not labeled with a vintage.  I included this “country” wine because more often than not it is predominately Barbera & because it is delicious, food friendly & so gulpable.  This is the kind of wine one pops open when friends come over just to hang out &/or talk story.  Unpretentious, thirst quenching & brings a smile to your face with each gulp.  PLUS, it is a GREAT VALUE. 

2015 Cantine Valpane Barbera del Monferrato–what a discovery this has been for us!  It is a more meaty, musk oriented rendition–dark & intriguing in its core–with lots of character & mojo at an almost silly price, it is so reasonable.  It will never be confused as being Cru in quality, but it is very pleasurable, is an interesting drink AND does really over deliver for the dollar spent. 

2011 Cavallotto Barbera d’Alba “Vigna del Cuculo”–I am a HUGE fan of Cavallotto & their wines.  They have such purity, etherealness & refinement, done with wonderful texture, balance & transparency.  This wine comes from their Bricco Boschis Cru (wild yeast fermented & aged for 15 to 18 months in oak) & is one to search out for if you are looking for superb, interesting, classy, well made Piemontese red wine at surprisingly reasonable prices. 

2016 Giuseppe Cortese Barbera d’Alba–this is yet another winery who crafts very elegant, refined red wines & one of our favorites from Barbaresco.  The winery (& their house above) is located just above the iconic & breathtaking Rabajà CRU. Their Barbera (7/10’s of a hectare–planted in 1968), however, comes from the “other” side of the hill, 600 to 800 feet in elevation–Trifolera–on one of the 3 crests between the great Rabajà & Martinega CRUs.

SUPER Barbera.  While these are all quite good & interesting, these next 2 are really in a different class, which is why I refer to them as SUPER Barbera.

2009 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba “Cascina Francia”–As many have noted on line, this is considered the best of what Piemontese Barbera can be.  Here are some of my notes previously posted in this blog after our trip to Piemonte in 2016.  Giacomo Conterno is run by the current generation–Roberto Conterno.  Roberto said the estate vineyard, (a former wheat field)Francia was planted in 1974–9HA of Nebbiolo & 5HA Barbera.  (most sites however say that Francia was purchased & planted in 1976 & the first vintage was 1978).  In 2008, Conterno also purchased 3HA of Ceretta vineyard (1HA of Barbera).  Although these vineyards are only about 2km apart as the crow flies, the soils are so very different (Francia–more calcareous & Ceretta more clay)….& the wines are therefore very different.  (In 2015, Conterno also purchased a little less than 6HA of Arione vineyard, but is currently 100% Nebbiolo).  The 2 Barbera d’Alba we tried, both from 2014 were obviously different.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Francia” was much more musky, masculine with more obvious mojo & distinct rocky, mineral & saltiness in character.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Ceretta”, on the other hand, although made virtually the same way offered much more bay leaf, spice & a savoriness on a much more elegant, refined frame“.  On this night we tried the 2009 Barbera d’Alba “Cascina Francia”.  I was really taken by the class, character & impressive harmony this wine displayed, even at only 9 years of age.  I had not previously consciously really considered whether Barbera got better with age.  (I had previously only sampled slightly aged Coppo Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” & Braida “Bricco dell Uccellone” before & those wines did NOT wow me like this wine did).   While his Nebbiolo may have more pedigree, this 9 year old Barbera’s vinosity, harmony, balance & savoriness was really compelling & therefore a terrific drink.  Definitely impressive & I definitely learned a thing or two with this wine.

2012 Vietti Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Vecchia Scarrone”–here is another SUPER Barbera, one that like the Conterno “Francia”, supersedes any of its neighbors’ renditions. Located in the Castiglione Falletto commune, the Scarrone Cru has but 1 hectare of 90 plus year old Barbera vines.  Luca, in fact, vehemently believed in this wine & convinced his father they should keep their small parcel of old vine Barbera in this esteemed Barolo entitled vineyard (Scarrone) instead of replanting or grafting over to Nebbiolo.  This was a REALLY big deal!  Such a big leap of faith to say the least!  I absolutely loved the savory, roasted chestnut/sandalwood character of this bottling & its divine elegance, class & refinement.  Truly a standout!  Whether it is worth the price tag or not is up to the taster, but I will say, this is truly some kind of Barbera.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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