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Ca’ Gialla – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-24T17:21:21+00:00April 24th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

Marco Porello is the third generation of his family to produce wines in Roero, and he works the land with the help of his sweet mother, Nonna Porello (pictured). The family owns 15 hectares of vineyard land in total and these vines sit in Canale and Vezza d’Alba, two of Roero’s twenty-three villages. The Canale vines sit on the Monbirone Cru which is composed of marine clay based soil, and the Vezza d’Alba vines sit on the Tanone Cru on sandy, limestone rich soil.

Climb up to the castle that sits above Marco’s home village of Canale and you’ll leave with a better understanding of how Roero fits into Piedmont as a whole – In simple terms to the South of the river you have the more famous (and more expensive) Langhe and where you stand (to the North of the river) you have the more humble (but often overachieving) Roero. Most people think Arneis when they think Roero, and while we love some Arneis this is shortsighted. Roero Nebbiolo and Barbera can be sensational and almost always come at a humble price.  Michael Austin of The Chicago Tribune sums the situation up perfectly, basically saying that the wines of Roero are like the really good Rolling Stones tribute band at your neighborhood bar, that they are so dialed and so close to the original, that you’ll gladly fork over $20 to see them (and see them often) instead of $200 to see Mick and Keith themselves at the arena.

Marco Porello is one of the most “known” names in Roero, and he produces two lines – His namesake Marco Porello line which is sourced from the estate’s oldest vines and sees a bit more wood, and a more value-oriented line called Ca’ Gialla, named after the yellow house on site inhabited by his mother and also made from 100% estate fruit, albeit with no new wood and slightly younger vines on average. Of these two lines Ca Gialla fits our portfolio the most strategically as it gives us affordable Piedmont options that show real personality and detail. The only thing holding these back from becoming “can’t miss” in our book was the packaging, and we’ve spent some time reworking these labels as you see below.

All wines are farmed naturally without the use of herbicides or pesticides, and all yeast is indigenous. Marco is working towards organic certification.

About that castle…The castle hovering above town is now a restaurant and hotel (the prior Contessa blew all of her money on booze and gambling a few years back and was forced to sell), and we enjoyed the view over some semolina crusted veal, tasting Marco’s 2018’s with big smiles.

Ca’ Gialla 2018 Nebbiolo Roero, surprising soft and round at this early stage, very good
Ca’ Gialla 2018 Barbera Roero
, dark, dark fruit, balanced, fresh, delicious
Ca’ Gialla 2018 Arneis Roero
, slightly yellow (ripe vintage), but full and fresh

Schiavenza – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-23T04:26:24+00:00April 23rd, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

The local Piemontese dialect for sharecropper is “schiavenza,” and this much-buzzed about estate takes its name from the sharecroppers who formerly worked the property’s vineyards during the time that it functioned as a hospital and school as part of the Opera Pia Barolo (you can think of the Opera Pia Barolo as a similar entity to the Hospices du Beaune). Brothers Vittorio and Ugo Alessandria revitalized this property in the mid 1950’s when it was in need of such work, and things are thriving under the current second generation, with farming and winemaking led by son-in-laws Luciano Pira and Walter Anselma.

A name like Schiavenza should give one a clue as to the style here; this is a “traditional to the bone” property with a foundation of organic farming and Slovenian botti, nothing more and nothing less. Vineyard holdings have expanded over time, and the estate is made up of ten hectares split between Serralunga and Monforte.  These include the heralded crus Prapò, Bricco Cerretta, and Broglio. 

We sat down with Walter Anselma, plowed through some Pomerol samples (there’s no better way to evaluate important samples, than with a very good winemaker in a very different region), and then dug into the good stuff – Schiavenza’s current bottled releases. Thus far we’d had quite the eventful string of visits in Barolo, but when we tasted Walter’s 2016 Barolo Serralunga from botti we were floored. To achieve this kind of finesse with equal levels of concentration is at the same time astounding and unreal. We bring you good news – Traditional winemaking in Barolo is all well. 

Also worth noting is the family’s restaurant, which sits above the winery and sports one of the best views in Barolo for those fortunate enough to score a patio seat. We went through some recently bottled wines while eating the two food specialties that Piedmont executes best –  Carne crudo (hand chopped raw veal seasoned with salt, pepper, and just pressed olive oil) and tajarin (paper thin narrow egg noodles dressed in ragu). Walter informed us that one can use up to 40 egg yolks in one kilo (2.2 lbs) of flour when making tajarin. How can you leave this place thinking anything else than what a glorious time in history it is to be alive as a human!

Schiavenza 16 Dolcetto d’Alba, outstanding, difficult to find a better one
Schiavenza 15 Nebbiolo d’Alba, typical if a bit on the light side
Schiavenza 13 Barolo Serralunga, softer style, good flavors
Schiavenza 13 Barolo “Broglio,” fuller, more perfumed, lifted
Schiavenza 13 Barolo “Ceretta,” bolder, deeper, more tannin, excellent
Schiavenza 13 Barolo “Prapo,” more of everything, memorable

Zeni – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-16T16:49:25+00:00April 16th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

The Zeni family has spent the last 140 years dedicating themselves to producing individual wines in and around Verona. In total 125 acres are farmed here, 75% of which are planted to red varietals. They operate two wineries, with the primary winery being based in Bardolino on the shores of Lake Garda. We carry most of Zeni’s classic line (Bardolino, Chinatto, and Valpolicella), their Ripasso “Margone,” and their flagship Amarone Vigne Alte. Most of Zeni’s production (and all of the particular items we carry) represents traditional Veronese wine at its finest – Pergola trained vines, no barrique, minimal intervention, and lowes in appellation (ie almost zero) residual sugar levels on Ripasso and Amarone.

Fausto Zeni is the newest generation to run things here, and the winery appears to be thriving. Their Ripasso “Margone” and Amarone “Vigne Alte” are exactly what we look for in terms of style, and you’ll all have the opportunity to go big on both as we’ve queued up two large loads for you.

As for Chiaretto? That typical Veronese style rosé you keep hearing about these days? We are lucky enough to still have some 2017 from Zeni and it is in such a perfect place right now in terms of fruit/balance/complexity…If you are reading this and have access to a bottle do yourself a favor and pop one!

Zeni 2018 Chiaretto, Fresh, full dry, very pleasant
Zeni 2018 Bardolino, Decent color, easy drinking
Zeni 2017 Barolino Classico Superiore, More of everything, stylish
Zeni 2016 Corvina GT, Dark, fresh, some spices, quite full-bodied
Zeni 2016 Costalago, Dark, ripe commercial style, have to say pretty delicious
Zeni 2016 Ripasso, Typical, big, soft, drier than most you’ll find
Zeni 2013 Amarone “Vigne Alte,” Very good, more elegant style, RS has been reduced to less than 10 grams with recent vintages
Zeni 2013 Cruino, Concentrated, soft, very nice. Made with Corvina in a Amarone/Ripasso style

La Carlina – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-16T15:25:57+00:00April 16th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

The brother and sister duo of Camilla and Francesco Scavino founded La Carlina in 2014 at the foot of the Medieval castle that towers over the village of Grinzane Cavour. The name “La Carlina” is a reference to the farm of their grandmother where the family would celebrate and party, which is also the place where Camilla and Francesco began experimenting with winemaking as teenagers. You could probably call La Carlina Piedmont’s “newest” producer – They’ve been producing their own wine for about five years now and are releasing their first Barolo this year. Overall holdings are actually pretty significant, consisting of 8 hectares of Barolo alone! Vineyards are scattered between the hills of the Langhe and Monferrato (although most vines conveniently sit at the base of the winery), and farming is strictly organic. 

Until several years ago the family would sell all fruit to the local cooperative, but things changed when Camilla and Francesco’s father needed a larger space to house his growing specialty pasta empire – His company, Pastificio Langhe, is one of Italy’s best producers of naturally colored and uniquely shaped noodles. The old University winemaking school sat next to their main Barolo vineyard, and they found that it was abandoned and consequently for sale…This meant room for everyone to grow – Turn the classrooms into a pasta factory and fill the basement with casks of Barolo! You just can’t make this kind of stuff up sometimes…

There aren’t many “hipster” winemakers in Barolo, a tradition-soaked region where one hectare of land is valued at 3 million Euros, but Francesco is one of the few. For us this means an openness to experimentation that we take for granted in places like Saumur or Kremstal, but rarely see in Piedmont. As for Camilla, she is as smart as they come but at the same time constantly bubbling over with charm and laughter.  

Carlina’s two examples of Favorita are can’t miss items – One is fermented in amphora with extended skin contact and the other is clean and uber-crisp, only seeing steel tank. As for Barbera Superiore you don’t see much of the category in the market overall, and Carlina’s example is top rate with opulent fruit and minimal wood. We can’t wait to pick up their Barolo – It fits an interesting slot in the Grape Expectations portfolio as Grinzane Cavour Barolo is famously elegant and arrives a bit lower in price than similarly pedigreed wine from Serralunga or La Morra, et all. If we work out the right numbers with Camilla this could end up our “Crous St. Martin” equivalent in Piemonte and with eight hectares they actually have some volume to play with!

La Carlina 18 Favorita – Bright, crisp, fresh, outstanding
La Carlina 17 Favorita Riserva – Slight color from skin contact, almost peachy, very broad, unique
La Carlina 16 Nebbiolo Langhe – Medium bodied Nebbiolo, plenty of red fruit, classic
La Carlina 17 Nebbiolo Langhe – Slightly younger than the 2016, promising
La Carlina 17 Barbera d’Asti – Terrific freshness here, purple fruits, hard to put this glass down
La Carlina 16 Barbera d’Asti Superiore – Textbook low-yield Barbera, wood well-integrated, superb
La Carlina 15 Barolo – Elegant style, strawberries, roses, mineral… packed with flavor and complexity and showing well even at this young an age.

New Podcast – Manfred Felsner of Weingut Felsner

By |2019-04-11T15:37:47+00:00April 11th, 2019|Austria, Travel Report|

The new Felsner container has arrived in our warehouse and folks are licking their lips around here! We talked Manfred Felsner into letting us record his thoughts on a variety of topics, and distilled things down into a ten minute clip for you. Topics include:

  • Why a vineyard with a mix of young, middle-aged, and old vines is rare in Kremstal but a kind of secret weapon
  • Why Kremstal might be the new Provence in terms of sexy, textured rosé
  • The importance of extended lees contact i.e. why Manfred refused to bottle Gruner until the last possible moment

Click here for the episode link on Spotify, and here for the episode link on iTunes.

If you’ve been living in a cave and don’t listen to podcasts yet, you can read the interview transcript below instead:

JM:                   So we’re here with Mr Manfred Felsner from Weingut Felsner and we’re talking about release dates when it comes to Austrian Gruner veltliner. A lot of people in the US market especially, you know, they want brand new vintage Gruner right away. And a lot of what we’ve tasted has led us to believe that fresher isn’t always better. It’s certainly the case with Felsner, always has been. Here’s Manfred telling us why that is, why he believes in giving us fall bottling Gruner rather than Gruner that is bottled in the winter of that year.

MF:                  Oh, well with Gruner Veltliner needs a time of contact on the lees because the lees is keeping him fresh. There is a process called autolysis and every day coming some new bubbles from the lees and gives him a fine CO2 and in the end it makes him a younger for a long time. So a wine who is bottled in autumn time keeps for sure five, seven years. If you bottle the wine in springtime then it’s very quick old, maybe after one year. So that’s why I like wines were bottled in autumn. Then you, you have fun with this wine for the next 7 years for sure.

JM:                   Oh Wow. So one year versus seven. That’s pretty, it’s a pretty incredible difference.

MF:                  Uh, yes. 2017 was in generally a really dry year, maybe one of the dry years from all. So we had no rain for three months, but the vines are helping themself. We had a similar effect like in Sicilia, so when it was to dry, they did nothing for one month and then in August we had an nice rain. And then the sugar content was growing up very quick. So when we pick the grapes, we had an nice sugar content, but also a nice acidity. And 2017 Gruner was in spring time a little bit rough because there was some tannins because it was very try. But then later in the summer times it gets smoother and smoother and now it’s really perfect. He have a nice acidity. The tannins are away now and even nice mineralic taste. And it’s a great, for me it’s like really a great, vintage, which will keep long in the vinotheque.

JM:                   Great. And tell us about your vines. Something that we always tell our customers when we’re talking Gruner, when we’re talking about Felsner, is that you guys are so different because you have this, these holdings, of very, very old vines. You know… some of the… if you looked at producers and Kremstal and you looked at the age of their vines, you guys have probably on the whole, the oldest portfolio of vines. Um, tell us about that and what that does for the finished wines.

MF:                  Uh well, when I left the vintner school we learned after 25 years you have to pick out the vines and make a new vineyard because then they are two less fertile. But I found out that the wine from the old vines, have more aroma spectrum as the young vineyards and so I was one of the first in the region who start to make always new vine. So when the one vine was dying, I pulled him out and put a new one. So, and now our oldest vineyards are more than 60 years old. So it would be a lie to say every vine is 60 year old, but I have a mix from one to 60 years because every year some hundreds are died because they are too old and that I picked them out and make a new vine in. And so I have always a blend of different years. But in some [unintelligible] the wine is very special because you have the extract from the old vines because their root system is very deep, sometimes more than 10 meters or you’ll have more facet of ground floor and the young wines are a little bit thinner, which is also good. So because when a white that is too fat, it’s also not good. So the mix of young and old vines, it’s really interesting. It’s a big aroma spectrum.

JM:                   And it looks like we have a little bit of 2018 vintage as well.

MF:                  I bottled these on Wednesday, so just a little shy, some pallets because I need for the German market. But I generally like to bottle when I get the order because if they are on the lees it’s better for the wine.

JM:                   So let’s talk about rosé. You know, we’re coming right into rosé season. We have that amazing Zweigelt rosé from you. Tell us about that. Let’s taste it too.

MF:                  Yes. Uh, the, the global warming is helping us a little bit at the moment because when I was in vintners school 27 years ago, I liked the bronze rosé, but now I found out they are high in alcohol, they are oily, they have no acid. And now our rosé is tasting like in the Provence around 27 years ago.

JM:                   Wow. Wow.

MF:                  So we have a really fresh, lively rosé. Nice summer terrace wine, works also good with seafood, uncomplicated, easy to drink with seafood, also pour just to have fun. I think in future that people will talk more about Austrian rosé because the business is growing every year because we have this nice acidity which makes him so, so nice to drink.

MF:                  Should I tell you about the production also?

JM:                   Totally.

MF:                  Yeah. There are two possibilities to make rosé wine. You can either put it away after crushing the grapes for red wine. So if you’re crushing the grapes for red wine, you can give 10% away then you have a rosé and the red wine is more concentrated. But I don’t like this type of rosé because he’s rough and he have also tannins. What we do, we harvest mostly the north part of the vineyards, our terraces are running west-east. We are cutting mostly than north part. Then we have chill (?) growing grapes and then we pressed them very quick, like white wine and we wasting the color. But the wine is more white in character and so sometimes it’s like a Riesling, just a rosa, which is really nice to drink.

JM:                   Totally. Yeah. I think this is, this is interesting because I liked the comment about just being kind of similar to a throwback Provence rosé, where a lot of Provence rosé now is, you know, has less acidity than you would want. It can be sometimes almost banana-ee in really warm years and this has that really beautiful elegance, real pale color. Now you can tell that it’s not a saignee wine when you look at the color, you know, even for something like Zweigelt, which you’d expect a lot of color from. Its real pale color is beautiful. It’s paler than prior vintages. I feel like.

MF:                  Yeah, it’s the color of the grape. Zweigelt it’s not so much a peaks of color, like a Cabernet is, just 30% of the Cabernet. So that’s the reason why the rosé is just porky pink. But the nose is very nice. I have raspberries, strawberries in the nose, so…like a summer wine…

JG:                    Like a summer one. I like it. Okay, well that was informative and insightful. Thanks a lot Jeff for bringing that to us. Danke Schoen Manfred and all that talk of rosé is making me thirsty. Okay. Time to go. See you next time.

Sordo – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-08T16:05:22+00:00April 6th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

The venerable house of Giovanni Sordo lies in the heart of Castiglione Falletto and has been producing traditional Barolo for just over 100 years.  It’s a family-run winery now in the capable hands of Giorgio, Giovanni’s son, the third generation of the family.  Everything here is sustainably farmed, and current holdings come out to 53 hectares in total, making Sordo one of Piedmont’s most recognizable producers.

Producing separate “Cru” bottlings is surprisingly something new at Sordo – Until about five years ago most everything went into their regular DOCG Barolo. The family holds an insane collection of elite-level cru vineyard sites covering the townships of Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Monforte d’Alba, Barolo, Novello, La Morra, Verduno, Grinzane Cavour and Vezza d’Alba and they are the only existing Piedmontese winery that can boast offerings from eight different specific Crus.   We enjoy showing wines from Sordo side by side, as Sordo’s “naked” approach to winemaking means marked differences in the characteristics of each site (you’ll never see a barrique inside these walls). Take a look at the video below and you’ll see what we are talking about.

Here at Grape we love selling some older wine and as you’d guess we asked Giorgio about older vintages, both large and regular format. To our surprise there are plenty of options on that front! If you are an active wholesale customer of ours you can expect a craaazy back vintage pre-arrival offering this week…including the below bottlings, all of which are singing right now.

Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2006 Monvigliero
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Perno
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Parussi
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Ravera
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Monvigliero
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2004 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2004 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2003 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2003 Perno
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2003 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2001 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2001 Perno
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2001 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 1999 Gabutti

Sorelle de Nicola Feyles – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-05T15:01:18+00:00April 4th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

You won’t find Sorelle de Nicola Feyles on a map, and certainly not through Google. Booking an appointment to see Feyles takes some local connections, in this case through a Gavi-based colleague of ours. The process goes like this – You reach out to proprietor Antonio de Nicola with a letter, you don’t hear back for a month, and the day of the visit you scratch your head, bummed, until the proprietor of a local hotel calls your mobile advising on a “meeting address,” in this case a parking lot at the end of the village, suggesting that Antonio is waiting outside in a car to lead you to his home and winery. Over the years we’ve heard the anecdotes about the legendary Feyles, we find Antonio in an old VW, and the tension builds… 

Upon driving through the “gates” of Feyles things get spooky – Not in a bad way, but in a manner that suggests you’ve entered a different dimension in time. Hitchcockian. The story has it that this compound served as a slaughterhouse in days gone by. You wouldn’t guess so now, as there are probably sixty concrete vats scattered outside, of various shapes and sizes, all well-weathered, under a tin roof with thousands of rust holes that pepper the place with pin-sized, almost star-like beams of sunlight. Things are plenty messy but not what we’d call “dirty.” Walk inside a small building to the left and you are greeted with a humble but modern bottling line, shiny and clean to Thomas Keller standards, and somewhat inexplicably you run into four massive, fairly new, Slavonian oak casks.

Antonio himself has enviable energy for a man in his mid-eighties. They say intention brings longeivity, and Antiono has single handedly taken care of all the estate’s winemaking for the last 56 years. With Antonio and what he is doing at Feyles, we are looking at an estate in its prime. There does seem to be some succession plan in place here – Antonio tells us he has a son living in Paris. Is it our duty to put Feyles on the “map” so to speak?

Vinification is totally non-interventionist with a minimum use of sulphur. The wines mostly finish fermentation with some residual sugar, which is “eaten up” during aging which takes place in Nicolas’ outdoor graveyard of small, very weathered, pre-war concrete tanks. All wines are aged before bottling for 5 years with the exception of Dolcetto and Barbera. It goes without saying that we found no evidence of “climate control” anywhere, and shockingly, no evidence of volatile acidity either. All wines are bottled unfiltered and taken to a protected environment for further aging. 

The young wines are not so different from the old ones, nor are they much more colored, all oxidation almost certainly comes during alcoholic fermentation, which goes on for years in some cases – One of his two vats of 2014 Barbaresco must have still had what our palates estimate ten grams of residual sugar in it, and when questioned Antonio shrugged implying that fermentation would commence again this summer after he racks it to tank, and that like everything else through the years here this Barbaresco would finish dry. After tank aging the wines are then kept some five years in bottle. We received no clear answer to our question as to why. For Frank and I the over-the-top aging in bottle does not add all that much, but it is of course joyous to come across this ability to pick up and offer you ten year old Barolo and Barbaresco as “current release” material.

Antonio produces two Baroli, both Cru bottlings from six acre plots – Perno in Monforte and Sottocastello in Novello, with an indication of the specific plot within each Cru. The same holds true for Barbaresco – Five acres of holdings, from plots in Montesommo and Borgese, both in Neive. His outstanding Langhe Nebbiolo is actually a second wine made from declassified fruit in the Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards. Vinification and aging of Barbera and Dolcetto comes more quickly, as you’ll see with the below release dates, and these wines come from the same part of Perno as the Barolo.

Collectively Frank and I have visited many wineries over the years, and have never witnessed such natural winemaking, not even at the most hipster of locales, and the most shocking bit is that there were zero flaws in anything we tasted. The overall shock factor of this visit takes me back to the first time I tasted wines made by Frank Cornelissen, and while to this day tasting Cornelissen remains one of the more interesting vinous experiences one can enjoy, diving into Feyles you trade “interesting” for silky, almost ethereal palate pleasure. Simply put, I’m at a loss for words. Everything about Feyles goes against all logic.

Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’17 Barbera d’Alba Superiore, dark, fine classy
Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’17 Dolcetto d’Alba Superiore, typical in an elegant style, balanced
Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’09 Langhe Nebbiolo, nearly mature, very fine
Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’08 Barbaresco Riserva Montesommo, typical red./brown/orange color, complex nose, dry “Barbaresco” tannins, ready to drink for many years to come
Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’08 Barolo Perno, darker, softer, but still quite powerful, a little easier than the Barbaresco, ready as above
We tasted ‘10 Barolo and Barbaresco from concrete vat, they showed similar to the ’08’s but with a bit more power.

Additionally we tasted two separate casks of ’14 Barbaresco Riserva Montesommo, the fist being quite dark, concentrated, just outstanding, and the other similarly rich but with noticeable sugar still remaining.
Assorted ’13’s from vat were similar, but less developed as expected.

These wines are for experienced palates, or for those who are curious…
You can expect these to arrive in early Summer.

Produttori del Gavi – Spring 2019

By |2019-03-28T14:31:03+00:00March 28th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Podcast, Travel Report|

Did you say Gavi? Everything old is new again? I’m half deep into a love affair with this most noble white grape of Piemonte. Gavi’s planted vineyard area is 1,200 hectares in total (Napa is 18,000 hectares by comparison), and the village of Gavi itself serves as the region’s center. The DOC as a whole is made up of 13 different villages, and I attempt to break the region (and this opportunity) down real quick for you in our latest podcast episode. Quality-wise there are three levels:

Cortese di Gavi DOC – The most basic level, this can be produced anywhere and is the go-to local quaff in Gavi (along with a focaccia sandwich it is even part of breakfast for many locals, especially those over 70 years old!).

Gavi DOCG – A step up in quality, this an be produced only in a few of the region’s best towns, and is most of what you see here in the USA.

Gavi di Gavi DOCG – The top level – This can be produced only in the actual village of Gavi and is the highest quality level

You could call Gavi the “queen” of Piedmont’s white wines – Gavi must be made from the local varietal Cortese, and Cortese translates to “gracious” in Italian. Cortese has thin skins, naturally high acid, and it needs a warm climate to grow in. Nowhere does it grow better than in Southeastern Piedmont just North of the Ligurian coast. At its best Cortese is bone dry/with lemon/peach flavors, but at the same time classy. Add in some seafood and you are instantly transported to a very happy place.

Soil composition and exposure in Gavi is varied even by Piedmontese standards, and in this way the Cortese grape can express an enviable “menu” of flavors depending on said provenance. Our good friend and oracle Roberto Fossati lives in the village of Gavi itself and over the years he has seen just about everything here. Jump in Roberto’s car to visit vineyard sites and you’ll experience all this diversity firsthand, from stark white soils made of tuff and limestone to tomato colored soils based on ferrous clay.

Enter Produttori del Gavi. The origins of this cooperative trace back to 1951 when 83 families banded together to share their strengths in cooperative form.  The group is essentially made up of these same growers to this day, with just twelve more being admitted to the group since inception. The vineyards of member/growers are spread all over the Gavi DOC territory in 11 municipalities covering 200 hectares of land from Tassarolo to Bosio.  Such coverage allows the production of various “Cru” bottlings, many of which are amongst the most exciting produced in this historic appellation.

Produttori used to sell off 99% of their finished wine in bulk and from those gas handle type dispensers you see all over Europe, but oh my how things are changing inside the walls of this cooperative. Winemaker Andrea Pancotti leads the charge here now, and this is an exciting development for wine drinkers. Andrea understands the potential of the material at his fingertips (hand-farmed, low-yielding, old vine Cortese from thousands of interesting micro-plots), and the press has just started to recognize Produttori’s work, with Gambero Rosso bestowing his latest Gavi de Gavi release with the coveted “Tri Bicchieri” honors. Andrea is making single “cru” Gavi, he is making organically farmed Gavi, things couldn’t be any different there nowadays versus years past. Until recently, the only thing missing was an attractive label, which we took care of with a local designer last Spring, and we already know you all love Produttori’s new package. And the pricing? This is where it gets crazy – We negotiated DEEP with Produttori last week, and because they want everyone in the USA to be aware of their “brand,” they offered us a multi-container commitment deal that we could not refuse.

Produttori del Gavi ’18 Gavi “Il Forte,” floral, fresh, juicy, very good
Produttori del Gavi ’18 Gavi di Gavi” Bio,” more mineral, lighter style, very good
Produttori del Gavi ’18 Gavi di Gavi, full, ripe, rich, Cortese for hedonists

Our vision is to build Produttori’s “Il Forte” into the most recognized Gavi label in the US market, as it is by far more interesting than anything else out there that restaurants can buy under $10 wholesale. Game on.

New Podcast Episode – Catching up with Daniel Stewart of Guerrieri Rizzardi

By |2019-03-26T22:17:33+00:00March 26th, 2019|Italy, Podcast|

The venerable Guerrieri Rizzardi estate is on a roll these days, cranking out some of the most interesting examples of Amarone, Valpolicella Ripasso, and Soave Classico you’ll find anywhere. Daniel Stewart paid us a visit last week and caught us up on all things Rizzardi-related. To listen, click here or pull us up on Spotify.

A full transcript is below – John Griffin (JG), Daniel Stewart (DS)

JG:                    Hello and welcome back to another round of Grape, Unfined/Unfiltered; the podcast that peels back the pretty label to expose what’s really in the bottle. Today we’ll be talking Ripasso and Amarone with Daniel Stewart from Guerrieri-Rizzardi. Thanks for joining us in our beautiful tasting room here at the warehouse Daniel.

DS:                   Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

JG:                    It’s a beautiful day. You’ve just missed the Snowmageddon we had a couple of weeks ago, so you got lucky.

DS:                   Yeah. That’s what I heard.

JG:                    So what, can you tell me for listeners who aren’t familiar with Guerrieri-Rizzardi? Are they a new winery? Are they modern? What’s the deal?

DS:                   Well, there are modern twists to what we do. I mean, we use stainless steel fermentation tanks and things like that, but to call us new would be way off the mark. I mean the first vineyards were planted way back in Valpolicella in 1649, the first bottled of wines were 1678. So, you know…

JG:                    Wow.

DS:                   We’re a pretty established, old school producer, but not old school in the way we make wines, the wines are very classically styled, but they’re also very clean wines.

JG:                    Yeah, I noticed that yesterday at our meeting with the staff, we were tasting the Soave and the regular Valpolicella and they were super clean, no funkiness, pretty pure fruit, you know, like the minerality really shone through.

DS:                   Yeah. I mean that’s it. That’s very much the hand of their winemaker Giuseppe Rizzardi, who is a Rizzardi from the Rizzardi family. I mean the current owners are Giuseppe and his brother Augustino, and Giuseppe trained in Bordeaux as a winemaker and came back with very specific ideas. And one of the most important things that he wanted to do was to make sure that these wines were very clean expressions of the place. So you taste the Soave and you’re not interfered with by any kind of weird off aromas are any, any grape varieties that are too aromatic or two unusual. Really these are wines that taste of the place and in order to do that, they have to be very clean and pure.

JG:                    I think he hit the nail on the head. So the name, Guerrieri-Rizzardi. I hear you referring to them as just Rizzardi.

DS:                   Yeah, I mean a lot of people kind of struggle with the first name because it’s not that easy to pronounce. It’s a, it’s an Italian name where you roll the r’s in Guerrieri, but I mean there’s two names there simply because this is a combination of two families because a hundred years ago, the last Guerrieri married a Rizzardi and that combined the estates of Valpolicella and Bardolino. But, I mean the current owners, their sir name’s Rizzardi and this is a family that is established in the Vernonese area. And so for a lot of our importers in, in many of the countries that sell our wines, they refer to us as Rizzardi because it’s a little bit easier.

JG:                    Yeah, I think we’ll start referring to the wines as Rizzardi also. I think it’s a lot easier to spell too. Speaking of Italian, you don’t sound Italian,

DS:                   Do I not? I was trying very hard. No, I’m Irish originally.

JG:                    Irish!?

DS:                   Yeah. Yup. So I used to, I used to work for a very good importer in Ireland. We had a number of wine shops, quite a few in fact, 30 plus, and I was in the buying side of things and uh, the Rizzardi family, we knew each other over the years. They were one of our key imports. In fact, probably our most important Italian import, and that’s how I kind of ended up over there.

JG:                    Wow. And so far so good? You’re liking it? You have your family and everything there and they like it?

DS:                   Correct. Yeah, they’re pretty happy over there.

JG:                    Well that sounds great. Maybe I’ll have to come and visit you. Let’s get to it. So we got this, uh, the Ripasso and the Amarone here. This is a 2015 Ripasso. I think you were mentioning that you are in 2016 now, so we’ll be seeing that pretty soon. Let’s try the wine.

DS:                   OK.

JG:                    Hmm. This is like, you know, it’s got a beautiful nose. I mean, yeah, it’s really more aromatic. It’s not really “aromatic”. It smells great.

DS:                   This is the style of Ripasso that, it’s funny you’re talking about the nose. I mean it’s a style of Ripasso where the aroma is very much about bright, fragrant fruit. It’s not, you know, sometimes Ripasso can, can almost smell a bit jammy and kind of sweet. This is a very classic style.

JG:                    Yeah, this is not sweet at all.

DS:                   No, it’s not, I mean, it focuses very much on having good fruit purity and a word that we use quite a lot where we are is drinkability. You know, it’s not cloying, it’s not sweet. It’s very fresh and vibrant.

JG:                    Wow. What’s the sugar on this? I mean it’s got fruit but it’s not, ya know, there’s no sweetness really.

DS:                   No, there’s no sweetness. I mean, this is finishing dry. I mean we’re around a gram of sugar, so it’s pretty much as low as we can as we can go. But as you say, there’s plenty of fruit so it doesn’t feel in any way aggressively dry. It’s in balance.

JG:                    I’d have to agree with you there. And what are the actual regulation right now on the production of Ripasso and actually that’s another thing maybe you can touch on just really quickly, you don’t have to touch on it too much, but I see all these other things out there, like, you know, that have twists on the name and it’s somewhat confusing. I mean, for me, and I’m sure it’s confusing for the buying public.

DS:                   Yeah. I think it’s a bit confusing for everybody to be honest with you. Because when you see Ripasso on the label, the wine should be a wine that’s repassed on the pumace or the skins of the of the Amarone. That’s what a Ripasso is. You see a lot of lookalike wines nowadays and wines given fancy names and different names where people are using other methods to try and replicate the flavor profile and the, the body texture, et Cetera for Ripasso. And you know, even though in their own right, some of these wines might be good wines, they’re not Ripasso. And you know, and they can’t replicate it perfectly. So you see a lot of wines where sometimes people will use a portion of dried fruit and add it to their fermentation tank to spark off more and more fermentation, more flavor, et cetera, or they’ll add dried grapes to a finish wine and then put in some yeast to try and bump it up. I mean, these are all wines that may have their own merits, but however they are not Ripasso. The thing about a Ripasso and a very important thing is that it’s got to be a good wine in the first place. You’ve got to have a very good Valpolicella. You put it in with the Amarone and the Amarone skins, they just give it a little bit of polish. They give it an accent. They bring up the texture and the flavor of the wine.

JG:                    That’s what happens on this wine. It’s beautiful. And how much is actually produced. I mean, I heard something about, I don’t know, a certain amount of bottles being produced in accordance to how many bottles of Amarone.

DS:                   Yeah, well that’s it. I mean it’s tied into wine law. I mean, you’re allowed two bottles of Ripasso maximum for every bottle of Amarone you produce. And we normally work off a ratio of about 1.2, 1.3 bottles max…

JG:                    Wow.

DS:                   …of our Ripasso for our Amarone, which means that we’re not overextending the skins that we’re using. We’re not drying them out too much.

JG:                    That’s not a lot of wine actually.

DS:                   No.

JG:                    Okay, let’s move on to Amarone. So this is the 2011, uh, Calcarole, is that correct?

DS:                   That’s it, yeah.

JG:                    Well, what’s that stand for? What’s that refer to?

DS:                   Well Calcarole is, it’s calcare. It’s limestone.

JG:                    Oh, that makes sense.

DS:                   Because essentially this is coming from one single vineyard in Negrar in Valpolicella and the terroir is limestone terroir. This essentially, it’s like a limestone rock in Negrar, with a little bit of soil on top and the vines are planted on terraces up the hill. Then there’s this slightly sloping, sweeping plateau on top. So it’s very, very poor soil for growing just about everything else. But it’s obviously fantastic for grapes because you put a vine in bad soil and the grapes really thrive.

JG:                    Yeah. Well let’s give it a go.

JG:                    (John sips and gags)

JG:                    Ooh, a little bit down the wrong tube there.

DS:                   (Daniel chuckles)

JG:                    Wow, that’s amazing. And again, I’m not finding it very, you know, sweet or super duper raisiny or pruny like some humongous Zinfandel or something, which a lot of people sometimes refer to Amarone as like being some giant Zin-like wine, but I’m not really finding that here. This is really just coming up, really elegant.

DS:                   Well, that’s nice to hear that word because that’s a word that we would like to associate with the wine. I mean this is Amarone of course, I mean it’s made from dried grapes, but what you really experienced is a fine wine. It’s a wine where you have, there’s a lot of flavor, a lot of concentration, but there’s no thickness or heaviness. This wine carries a certain fresh profile through it. Even though we’re hitting 16% alcohol, you know, you have all the concentrated flavor that you get from our vineyards, from drying the grapes, from three years in oak. But as you say, it’s not particularly raisiny. We don’t over dry our grapes. We believe that we are bringing in grapes that are in such a condition in the first place that are suitable for a good wine that we don’t need to have a prolonged drying period. We will dry for three, three and a half months, and then we begin with the wine.

JG:                    Wow. This is delicious.

JG:                    So, we should have talked about this before, but as far as like fruit, I mean, are, you know, are there sources around the Veneto or around obviously Valpolicella, that Rizzardi are sourcing from or is it all estate?

DS:                   Oh, no, it’s all estate. For our Amarone it’s coming directly from our own vineyards. Everything’s done in house and it’s very much, you know, it’s quite a painstaking process. It’s labor intensive, but we get the results we get from it. I mean everything is picked by hand. It goes into boxes in the vineyard, then they’re brought to our fruttai or drying room, which was purpose built in the 18th century with windows open north and south to let the breeze come through. Um, we have no control over our temperature or humidity. We have mechanical fans that have been used for, for years and years and years to keep the air circulating. But as I say, we, we don’t control temperature, we don’t control humidity. So it’s quite a, you know, it’s quite a craft way of doing Amarone. It’s the old way of doing it, but we get the wine we get.

JG:                    So you’re talking about like, you know, the environment outside and you know, the hills being able to interact with the grapes and they’re not like just stuck in a big giant, refrigerated warehouse or something.

DS:                   No, no, it’s not.

JG:                    Oh, that’s good. You were saying like the old, the old fashioned way…are there old vintages available at the winery?

DS:                   Yeah, there is. We keep back a certain amount every year. We started doing that a number of years ago. We always kept a small quantity and we’ve increased that a little bit, so you know, in the future we’ll be able to release the odd vertical case or pop in to the market a few cases of an old vintage. So we like to show our Amarone when it’s aged. It’s quite interesting for people to come and taste at the winery or in the future when we do wine dinners, et Cetera, when they see a Amarone with age, it really changes people’s perception of Amarone because it really ages and matures like, like a great fine wine of the world and it can actually become difficult a bit later on to identify exactly what it is because it becomes a very complex wine.

JG:                    (John takes another sip)

JG:                    Okay. So how old are we talking about at the cellar. Are talking about 1900 or before?

DS:                   No, I mean, Amarone is actually a much younger wine than a lot of people think. I mean Ripasso is actually older than Amarone because Ripasso…

JG:                    Oh, really?

DS:                   Yeah. Ripasso is a wine they used to put on the pomace of the skins off Recioto della Valpolicella, which is the sweet red of the region. So Amarone only really came about by accident in the 30s, and then started to sort of see production in the 40s onwards. So we don’t keep vintages that are that old. We have some very, very old vintages, but they’re private. They belong to the family. And then for us, in terms of the business and tasting and journalists, et Cetera, we kind of go back to 1988 with our Amarone. So we have a pretty clear run from 88 up to now.

JG:                    That’s pretty good. Do you have a whole bunch in your cellar?

DS:                   Uh, no. They never last long. That’s the problem because when I’m in Italy, people want to come and visit and a lot of my friends are wine friends, so they usually destroy it.

JG:                    Exactly. And then you have to go back to the office and get more wine.

DS:                   Yep. That’s it.

JG:                    Uh, tough. So what can you tell me about any trend or. I don’t know, movements going on right now in the Veneto? In Bardolino?

DS:                   That’s interesting you say that because you know, I’m hoping next week on the water there’ll be some Bardolino Chiaretto. That’s our other estate and that’s in fact where we’re based where the offices are, but our Bardolino Chiaretto rosé is going to be shipped to the states and that’s a rosé in the Veneto, which has changed over the last kind of five, six years where the style has become lighter in color and more suitable to our climate. So it’s very, it’s quite, it’s a very vibrant style of rosé, pale in color, but really quite, quite intense cherry fruit. So I think it’s a wine that’s going to have a lot of appeal when it hits the shores of the US. It’s been very successful elsewhere, so…

JG:                    I look forward to it. And you were saying it’s more suitable to your climate. Last night you mentioned something about like, you know, climate change is really having an effect on the area and the producers and the vines and everything, you know, elaborate?

DS:                   Yeah. Well let’s say without getting into too much controversy, there’s no doubt that in our, in our European vineyards we are seeing warmer and warmer seasons. I mean that’s really noticeable for example, for German wine producers that record the data very, very accurately and over the years they’ve seen their gradual summer temperatures rise and rise and rise. Uh, we face the same sort of thing where things are getting a little bit warmer. And for example, in the Soave we have to know in these warmer years, we’re having to pick some of the fruit a little bit earlier to retain freshness. So yeah, it’s something that affects our choices.

JG:                    Ah, I think it’s happening everywhere. You know, earlier harvest, bigger wines, people moving north, ya know.

DS:                   Yeah.

JG:                    So that sounds good. Um, let’s try to wrap this up, I guess, and we’ll get out of here and go get a beer. Actually speaking of beer, what kind of beer do you drink, actually?

DS:                   Well, when I’m back home in Ireland it’s Guinness, but when I’m on the road I actually like something, which is not too wacky in flavor, ya know. I like something that actually tastes like a beer.

JG:                    What, you don’t want a full-blow triple hopped IPA that tastes like, ya know, orange juice?

DS:                   Yeah, no. I’ll pass on that. I like an IPA, but not over the top.

JG:                    Well, let’s get out of here and go get a beer.

DS:                   Sounds good.

JG:                    Alright. Thanks again and, uh, let’s do it.

DS:                   Okay, let’s go.

Chablis – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-21T09:17:44+00:00February 18th, 2019|France, Travel Report|

We cannot think of a better way to wake up then to have Frank take us to a nearly abandoned Abbey at sunrise followed by a trip into Vincent Dauvissat’s hallowed cellar, and that was just the start…

Vincent Dauvissat

Sometimes you don’t know where to start when describing a visit. Vincent has been making some of the most legendary Chardonnay on this planet for most of his life, inside a classic cellar setup sitting underneath his house. Everything here is very natural both in the vineyard and in the cellar, and we tasted 2017’s with him which were bottled just days ago and therefore “settling in.” While the wines remain outstanding, for a more accurate feel for the selection and vintage we are reposting Frank’s notes from September:
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Petit Chablis, concentrated for the ac, tight, but pleasant.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis, more complex and saline, tension.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Sechets,” dry and austere, nervous. 
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Vaillons,” more fruit and fat.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “La Forest,” shy, fresh, typical.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Preuses,” other dimension, powerful, complex, finesse and tension.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Clos,” fatter, but also drier, salinity, mineral.
Our allocation this year is slightly higher than previous years, something we are thankful for. Just before we were to leave Vincent knocked the wax off of some 2003 La Forest…most of you remember this vintage as an unreasonably hot one (hot for the ages), and the wine was shockingly fresh and nuanced.

Lamblin & Fils

We’ve been selling Lamblin for years. Few of us have actually visited. When we’d think Lamblin the first thought was unbelievable value in Burgundy and Chablis – We didn’t expect to come across such a sweet, intentional, family-oriented operation, and we figured this would be more or less a tank farm (which it was not).
Lamblin & Fils 18 Sauvignon de Saint Bris, fuller style, dry, fresh
Lamblin & Fils 18 Aligoté, soft, flabby
Lamblin & Fils 18 Bourgogne Blanc generous, good
Lamblin & Fils 18 Petit Chablis, quite good, round
Lamblin & Fils 18 Chablis, more acidity,
Lamblin & Fils 18 Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillons,” bigger, classier
Lamblin & Fils 18 Chablis 1er Cru “Montée de Tonnerre,” tight, mineral
Lamblin & Fils 17 Bourgogne Rouge, balanced, richer than prior years, wow
Lamblin & Fils 18 Bourgogne Rouge, surprisingly good, this will be fun
How they pack so much into these bottles at these prices is beyond us but we will take it! We were actually kind of surprised to hear that we were their largest importer in what is their largest market outside of France (the US). We’ll take it. Get ready for more bottlings from this house, including a blockbuster Petit Chablis!

Domaine Nathalie & Gilles Fevre

One of Chablis’ most recognizable names, branches of Fèvre family have been producing wine in the region since the early 1800’s.  Nathalie and Gilles Fèvre base themselves in the village of Fontenay-Pres-Chablis, where they operate a Domaine that is impressively large by Chablis standards with over 100 acres under vine in total including a large proportion of classified holdings (Grand Cru Les Preuses, 1er Cru Fourchaume, and 1er Cru Mont de Milieu). It is worth noting that their basic “AC Chablis” holdings are unusually strategic, as most of their acreage sits on the Côte de Fontenay just northeast of the region’s coveted Grand Cru slopes. Nathalie and Gilles are putting the final touches on a new winery that you must see to believe – An impeccably efficient gravity flow setup cut into the side of their main vineyard site in Fontenay. If this is the future of Chablis then the future looks delicious.

Gilles’ Grandfather and father both held the position of President at the leading cooperative La Chablisienne, and Nathalie was the head winemaker at La Chablisienne for 12 years (until recently all of their harvest was delivered to La Chablisienne). You’ll see several different label iterations from this domaine in the market (when we signed them on we had options), and ours pays tribute to the Fèvre family legacy by referencing ancestors Marcel and Blanche.
Fevre Fevre 18 Chablis, nice, fresh, rather full, easy style
Fevre Fevre 17 Chablis 1er Cru “Fourchaume,” finesse, cool, more mineral
Fevre Fevre 17 Chablis 1er Cru “Monts de Milieu,” 15% barrel, fuller, mineral, tension
Fevre Fevre 17 Chablis 1er Cru “Vaulorent,” 15% oak, some new. Salinity, crisp, juicy
Fevre Fevre 17 Chablis Grand Cru “Preuses,” more new wood, more extraction, full, minerality, fantastic.
The 2018 Chablis party will start with the “AC” bottling this Spring, and will move into Premier Cru and Grand Cru material at this time next year.

Loire Valley (Part Three) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-15T03:34:30+00:00February 15th, 2019|Loire Valley, Travel Report|

Day three in the Loire took us to Sancerre, where we were able to catch up with our four main producers in the region – Henri Bourgeois, Gerard Fiou, Gilles Lesimple, and Pierre Riffault.

Henri Bourgeois

Family owned wine companies with the ability to keep the quality sky-high from generation to generation, even at scale…We are into this sort of thing. I suppose you already know this about us though. The Bourgeois family, led by Jean-Marie, Arnaud, Lionel, and Jean-Christophe, hold a figurative beacon for others to follow on this front. At the core this is a family of farmers, yet they are running what might be the most sophisticated, organized operation we collaborate with in France. Famille Bourgeois is farming hundreds of vineyard sites, mostly organic, and often elite. An example? Only twelve families are lucky enough to own land on the highly esteemed Monts Damnes Cru, and of that fortunate group Bourgeois owns more rows than anyone, and most of theirs are on the strategic top portion of the slope. Another example? Somehow they find the bandwidth to run the top hotel in Chavignol and not one but two restaurants in town. Oh yeah, and they actually make wine too. Lionel Bourgeois took us into the vineyards for some immersion on all things soil and pruning, and we tasted a myriad of bottlings at their enviable location overlooking La Cote Des Monts Damnes.
Henri Bourgeois 17 Sancerre Blanc “Les Baronnes,” Benchmark cuvée of the family, fresh, nuanced, citrus, engaging.
Henri Bourgeois 16 Sancerre Blanc “La Cote Des Monts Damnes,” Classic Monts Damnes, everything there, from the highest plots on the hill. Naked, no wood.
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “La Bourgeoise,” The monks of Saint-Satur first worked this site, and these are some of the oldest vines in the estate, singular stuff, flinty, touch of wood influence evident but integrated.
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “Jadis,” Kimmeridgian marl soil, organic, old barrels, charm, powerful.
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “Les Cotes Aux Valets,” From the best “chalky clay” plot on the estate, in Vinon, tiny plot. Round, long, bravo
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “Le Cotelin,” single vineyard marl based plot in Maimbray, long, structured
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “Les Ruchons,” flintiest plot in the appellation, in the village of Saint-Satur, old vines, mineral intensity, Frank talked about this one the rest of the week.
Henri Bourgeois 18 Sancerre Rose “Jeunes Vignes (tank sample),” Young vine Sancerre Rosé – Fun idea, and it delivers. Strawberries, pepper, yum. Love the pricing too.
Henri Bourgeois 17 Sancerre Rouge “Les Baronnes,” Typical, red fruits, cherries, medium body, what you want in Sancerre Rouge
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Rouge “La Bourgeoise,” Memorable stuff from some really old Pinot vines on SW facing flinty slopes. Totally developed. Magnificent.
We also tasted Bourgeois’ very fine New Zealand offerings, and those warrant a post of their own at another time. Want to get a feel for the estate in VR mode? Here is an inside look at the underground family stash, and here is a nice 360 view from the top of Monts Damnes.  On that note, Frank, John, and Lionel dared me to try sprinting up Monts Damnes, and I quickly learned that such an activity represents one “damne” fine athletic challenge (and one for, hmm…maybe an actual athlete?!?), especially after a few pounds of Crotin de Chavignol, but I digress… So here we are happy to report that these fabled slopes truly are at a sixty degree angle and that the clay there is as thick and heavy as it looks on paper.

Domaine Gerard Fiou

Domaine Gerard Fiou was recently acquired by the Bourgeois family, and the energy going into these

wines is something to take notice of. Young Florent Bourgeois is literally pouring his heart into the property and splits his days between vineyard work and winemaking. Fiou comes as a nice complement to us at Grape as all of their Sancerre Blanc is planted on Silex soil and is intensely flinty, yet reasonably affordable for Monday night usage. We spent some time in the bistro talking about the 2018 vintage with Florent while eating braised veal face (something that, as long as you aren’t vegetarian, you must try with Fiou’s incoming liquid mineral 2015 “Le Grand Roc” bottling).

Florent Bourgeois, brining the Silex to your table since, well, about 2012!

Domaine Gerard Fiou 18 Sancerre Blanc. fresh, juicy, some flint, very nice.
Domaine Gerard Fiou 15 Sancerre Blanc “Le Grand Roc,” broad, big structure, layers of mineral, wow.
Domaine Gerard Fiou 16 Sancerre Rouge, fresh fruit, spice, a bit disjointed right now but we look forward to seeing this develop.

Domaine Pierre Riffault

We hold a special affection for this small property in Chaudoux – Each year we take every last drop of wine available, which is usually about one container. This is a third-generation producer, with father Pierre handing things over to son Bertrand in 2005. Bertrand brings a bit of a unique (and more urban) background to what is overall a fairly provincial scene in Chaudoux – He returned home to the winery after earning a Master’s degree in Sociology, and is just as interested in music and cooking as he is winegrowing. If you make it to the property ask about their unbelievable collection of old clay “crotin de chavignol” molds. The family owns 20 vineyard plots in total (almost exclusively on very steep slopes), and all soils are either flint or of of two types of calcareous clay known locally as “caillottes” and “terres blanches.” In terms of size we are talking 9.5 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and 1.5 hectares of Pinot Noir.
Pierre Riffault 18 Sancerre Blanc (tank), ripe, rich, full, mineral, good acidity. Will be bottled 4/19
Pierre Riffault 17 Sancerre Blanc, tasty, but low acidity as is typical with these 17’s
Pierre Riffault 18 Sancerre Rosé (tank), rich and fresh, just 100 cases avail though which is sad
Pierre Riffault 18 Sancerre Rouge (tank), concentrated, tannic, very good, a pallet avail
Pierre Riffault 17 Sancerre Rouge, lighter, but quite good, a pallet avail.
Pierre Riffault 15 Sancerre Blanc “Croix de Chambre,” from limestone in Verdigny, ample, structured, aged in wood and bottle. Confirming price/availability and hoping for access to a bit

Bertrand Riffault, the most interesting man in Chaudoux

Neutral barrel fermented old vine Sauvignon from the 2015 vintage was becoming a theme on this trip, and we will take what people offer up!  Mark your “new Riffault” calendars for June, just in time for Sockeye Salmon!

Domaine Gilles Lesimple

Gilles Lesimple is probably not a name you’ve heard. Gilles is a good friend of the Bourgeois family, and a farmer with some very nice Sauvignon vines who sells most of his finished wine in bulk to producers you know and respect. This is the case for many a winegrower in this region, is really the backbone of Sancerre as you know it, and it is also a good living, as the bulk price for Sancerre right now is actually a slightly higher rate than most folks can earn for actual finished, bottled wine (especially when bottling costs are taken into consideration). We tasted probably twenty tanks with Gilles, all on various levels of his maze like setup in a connected series of buildings hidden right in the middle of town.

Domaine Gilles Lesimple 18 Sancerre Blanc. Fresh, juicy, balanced, very nice.

In coming years we’d like to help Gilles on the packaging front, help connect him to other like-minded importers and distributors, and as a result help get more of this very fine handmade clay soil Sancerre out into American refrigerators.

Loire Valley (Part Two) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-13T16:24:42+00:00February 13th, 2019|France, Loire Valley, Travel Report|

Domaine Masson Blondelet

The brother and sister team of Mélanie and Pierre Masson run this staunchly organic estate which they’ve taken over from their parents who founded it in the 1970’s. Pierre is the beautiful man gracing our landing page this month. You’ll see the winery on your right immediately upon rolling into Pouilly-sur-Loire, and their sixty lovingly tended micro-plots are patched through the appellation. To say this is a family passionate about organic viticulture is an understatement, you can smell that energy the minute you walk in, and this isn’t only because of the never-ending organic vegetable slideshow playing above the fireplace. Here is Mélanie taking us through things:
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 17 Pouilly-sur-Loire Chasselas, fresh, typical
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly-sur-Loire Chasselas, better, fresher
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Sancerre Rosé, complex, fine, smokey, Melanie likes this after 18 months in bottle and we therefore took a stand on the 17 last summer, and get the 17 from us while you can
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Sancerre Blanc “Thauvenay,” fine, cool, mineral
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Les Angelots,” vibrant, mineral
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Villa Paulus,” bigger, tight, not as much finesse
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Pierres de Pierre,” salinity, floral
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Pouilly Fume “Clos Paladi,” full, rich, fine
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 14 Pouilly Fume “Tradition,” mature, boring
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Pouilly Fume “Tradition,” fresher, better, more balanced
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Sancerre Rouge “Thauvenay,” skinny, dry, not much fruit left
The specialty here is clearly the whites, and with plenty of Sancerre Rouge already in the portfolio it is where we will keep our attention on all things Masson Blondelet. The Chasselas is coming to you thanks to the request of Mr. Jal Hastings who is making heads turn for us in the Bay Area – You’ll here more from Jal on the content side of things in coming months. Pierre showed Frank, John, and I something new, as in how to instantly spot a “roundup ready” vineyard as opposed to an organic one (hint: no plastic sheaths around young vines in the organic plots, as organic vines need no protection from the barrage of Monsanto branded glyphosate that most conventional Loire farmers are heartbreakingly reliant on nowadays). I’m standing there stiff like a total idiot at the start of this video but for the sake of unfined/unfiltered video content here you go!

Overall this was a memorable/productive visit and tasting. We have a gem here. The lesser wines are the best value-for-money as is usually the case in our travels. If you are a restaurant or retailer reading this, you ought to put on an event where you taste guests on each of the three soil types in Pouilly Fume using each of this Domaine’s three releases – We have a transcript from what was an interesting but “too poor of sound quality” podcast episode for you to use, which you can access here. Want a custom cover for your event? Call our California office and ask for Logan.

This is what a healthy, organically farmed vineyard in Pouilly Fume should look like in Winter 2019

Domaine Bigonneau

Isolated in a literal sea of quinoa fields, Domaine Bigonneau cranks out shockingly world-class Reuilly and Quincy. This 15 hectare estate has been in operation for maybe 25 years now, and the young Virginie Bigonneau runs all aspects of the operation. She is well-traveled yet very much at home and settled in here, and  while the setup in general looks like a typical French farm this is a winery so clean inside that you could eat off the floors. The wines are similarly clean and transparent. We like to give you the “walk up” or “drive up” approach to each winery, so here it is at Bigonneau:
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Pinot Gris Rosé, typical aromatics and flavors, crisp, very good, we reserved all avail production (this is technically not a Rosé, btw even though it looks the part!)
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Reuilly Blanc, easy, fine, great value
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Quincy,  step up, more concentration and complex, very good
Domaine Bigonneau 16 Reuilly Rouge, lovely Pinot aroma and fruit, we reserved everything avail
Domaine Bigonneau 17 Reuilly Rouge, fuller, fatter, perhaps less focused, we reserved everything avail

Cash flow permitting we will probably just buy a full container to save on logistic costs (remember this is the middle of nowhere). Our only complaint in the past was the packaging and WOW have they stepped that game up! Well done Virginie!

Ms. Virginie Bigonneau! BTW Virginie we are jealous of your sweet vintage Land Rover…

Monmousseau

John and I like quiet, gritty Loire towns. They have character and take a person back in time. Monmousseau is based in one such town, Montrichard, and while we won’t recommend our hotel to you (Frank especially won’t), visiting Monmousseau’s historic caves is an essential look at the Loire sparkling wine industry’s past. The Dutchman in Frank will call the setup inefficient, but John and I will call it deliciously old-school, with tens of miles of tunnels used to age the sparkling wines produced here. Wines are aged on wooden laths (oh how sad we are that most portions of these caves were too dark for our Insta 360 One camera) and Monmousseau is just now transitioning from rail car transport (yes like a coal mine) to electric fork lifts! One visit here and you’ll be drinking Monmousseau Cremant d’Touraine at least monthly in your rotation. Their entry level Brut Etoile was my go-to sparkling wine in the college days, and while simple it still tastes pretty great.
Monmousseau 18 Rosé d’Anjou, bright, deep, ready early Feb
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Touraine “Cuvee JM” Brut, the category defining Touraine Cremant, nice balance, magnums available which is fun
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Touraine “Cuvee JM” Brut Rosé, rounder, more strawberry, pretty
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire “Brut Zero,” well made, bone dry, interesting but probably not something that would have pull so a no for us.
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire Brut, mostly sourced from Touraine which gives this a bit more personality than most in the category, full, good
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire Rosé, pale color, slight yeastiness, one more g/L of dosage than the regular Brut.

Lath storage at Monmousseau – Yep this is what we mean when we say old school