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Produttori del Gavi – Spring 2019

By |2019-08-01T13:47:41+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

New Podcast Episode – Drinking in the Kitchen with Derek Mossman and Pilar Miranda of Garage Wine Co

By |2019-02-12T19:44:59+00:00February 12th, 2019|Chile, Podcast|

Angelo Simonetti caught up with the inimitable Derek Mossman and Pilar Miranda of Garage Wine Co. while in Chile several weeks ago. They spent some time in the kitchen and went through current and upcoming releases including Garage’s yet to be seen 2018 Old Vine Pale. For those of you not familiar with Garage Wine Co., they’re at the forefront of Chile’s exciting and growing movement of independent vintners. To listen, here are the episode links on Apple Podcasts/iTunes and Spotify. You can also listen right here on the page:

The full transcript can be found below:

[John Griffin’s opening comments] Grape’s man in Portland, Angelo Simonetti, was heading out to Pichelemu to catch a little surf when he got the call. Derek and Pilar had just returned to their apartment in Santiago and said come on over and let’s try some wines. So he did. We join their conversation just as they’re opening a bottle of their increasingly popular Pais. Here we go.

DEREK:        This is what I had on hand, a half bottle. To me the 18 is interesting.  It’s a little brighter.

PILAR:          Yes, less herbaceous than this one (referring to a bottle of they have open as well, I think it’s a 16).

ANGELO:     Okay. So if you have a full description on this, what do you think.

PILAR:          For the Pais?

ANGELO:     For the Pais.

PILAR:          I think it’s still, it’s uhh, representative of the variety. We see that the wine notes like the herbal things, the smells, the aromas that you can feel, it still have a very nice body. I think at two years old the wines are still very well stand up.

ANGELO:     Still holding.

PILAR:          Yeah, it’s holding very well. The tannins are impressive but it still has a smooth but you can feel them. It’s a light red. I mean it’s not cab. But it’s kind of, kind of serious Pais. A lot of people start to make Pais with carbonic maceration, being very fruity, very strawberry, cotton of candy aromas. I don’t like that style. I think it goes well with other dishes (?). It’s not, uhh, to show the variety in the end if you make carbonic maceration like you can use any variety, going to smell the same.

DEREK:        There’s a lot of Pipeño being sold in the US now, which to me is a different animal. A different thing. But I’m still pleasantly surprised how much Pais sells in the US. People just love the story and it’s just a lighter wine. It’s like buying Beaujolais or something.

ANGELO:     I can tell you it’s more than a Beaujolais. The quality would you get in the nose and the mouth… it’s not simple and one dimensional.

PILAR:          Yeah, but that’s what I was trying to explain with “a serious wine”. Like I mean the Pais it’s not just a simple, light wine. I think it has a structure, it has the tannins, a little complexity; it’s not just a simple wine.

DEREK:        The 16…

PILAR:          The 16 you can drink it easily,

ANGELO:     But it’s still have something, not just goes and pass.

DEREK:        The 15 is still drinking well.

ANGELO:     This is 16.

PILAR:          Yes it’s sixteen, but 17 is sold.

ANGELO:     And holding that much?

DEREK:        The 15 holds. But I’m not sure how much longer.

ANGELO:     But you’re talking about Pais 2016, you’re talking about two years old Pais.

PILAR:          Yeah, and you have a year and half to sell the wine, so it’s been a decent time to sell the wine and for this variety.

DEREK:        The um, what we do with things with labels, these two wines we consider one winter wine. So when we began this project, when we were discovering where the old gentleman with their horses and plows had Cariñena. Normally when you did your roadside tastings, you tasted with them they’d have one foudre and they’d want a “luca extra” (1000 pesos) if you want to take a liter away, you’d have to take your own package, they didn’t actually have it bottled, and what their explanation was that that wine had a second winter and that justified the extra thousand pesos. And that specially related to the second winter and in the end what we found is generally in the Cariñenas, the malolactic doesn’t finish before wintertime, so goes through its first winter without malo. It does it in the springtime and it really isn’t wine and unless you give it another winter of storage, it’s too racy. It’s too, it has too much acid.

It seems that just that doesn’t come into its own. It takes longer to get over the hump. So what we did after working this concept of two winter wines for many years, we decided that, “you know what, we need, the farmers need to sell their Pais, not just their Cariñena, at a decent price. We need to make some things a little more approachable because it’s a cash flow thing. We want to sell some wines before two and a half years.” And in the end we began, the first one we made, was an old vine pale which is in Cariñena from a section of a farm that is, doesn’t matter what you do it has a higher, a higher yield and the old man won’t change, so let’s make a different wine, because we’ll want the good stuff of his down the road. So let’s do that one now. A one-winter wine.

And you know in the beginning I thought was kind of, I suppose I was looking for something original to present,  probably in Inglaterra,  with the , in England, with the Bibendum people. There were just so many people in a room, presenting 12 months in new oak, and this and that and it was so clichéd and hackneyed all the phrases they used that I really loved standing there and saying how many months in a barrel was like one winter or two winters and they’d be like “what’s that?” and you’d have to explain it but then you had them in your hand because now then they’d heard enough of the story the old man and the plows that they wanted to hear the other bit. What was the other bits? Oh, people would say “How old’s the vineyard?” Well, they don’t really know. But they say that when they were young, the vineyard was old. It looked just like it did now and they’re now old, so it must be very old now. And they just kind of smile at you and realize.

Ah, and then there were the percentages. They’d say “and what percentage of Mataró is in this?” I’d say I don’t know. It was 17 barrels of Carignan and one of Matarór. Have you got a phone there, you could probably calculate that if you wanted to. But to me we think in barrels and by the time the staff (not sure here) had a quick visit of the walk around tasting. They were into it. You were the only one they remembered from their loop, little walk around in the New World this afternoon. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. So we stuck with it.

So in the past, some people kind of complained that it was too it was too difficult to learn the system of the lots and it was too complicated, there were too many wines. And it was like dude, I won’t dive into your business and tell you how to sell your wines if you don’t tell me how to make mine, sort of thing.

So what we have done lately though is made sure that the online is everything. So if you go in here you see the parcels, we call them, all of these that we’re about to taste.

So this is 73. So if I go to seventy three here (Derek is referring to their website), we have 17 with 73 16 was 63. I don’t know why 53 and 43 are here but you normally look back in the past further than that.

So all of these, each lot, if it’s any kind of a franc it always ends in a two. There’s a system to it. Those numbers just kind of came out and we just stuck with them. So they weren’t logically organized. This was the seventy third one in gotten since 2000 and 3.

ANGELO:     OK.

DEREK:        So a lot is a lot. A lot is a real lot. We’ve actually got some work to do for the new single-vineyard series.

But all of these are here now and there’s an explanation of the parcels and everything is here so if you wanted to find the, what we were just laughing about the acidity of the sugar of 73, in theory the residual sugar is one point seven. In theory all of these things are here.

ANGELO:     Alcohol 12.6. The pH three point zero five.

DEREK:        That’s a low pH for this wine but most of the pHs are still pretty low. Most are unresolved sugars (I think that’s what he said) aren’t really a factor for us. That would be more or less average alcohol, this is kind of low at 12.5 A lot of these wines are 13.5. The idea is it doesn’t hit 14.

You get that with the cabernets because that’s what the vineyards are used to doing. It will take time to bring it down a little bit if we wanted to, but all of these are here and there’s a root to all of the others (again referring to their website).

[Now they are tasting Old Vine Pale light red]

ANGELO:     Pilar how you describe this?

PILAR:          Ah this is very fresh. Absolutely. What we call, again, like a red. A chilled red. I mean absolutely.

ANGELO:     Can I sell this in the summer as a chill it up, patio wine?

PILAR:          Absolutely. It’s been very successful.

ANGELO:     I like this way. I like the temperature it is.

PILAR:          Yeah. It must be cold like a white.

ANGELO:     That’s what I’m saying. I like the way it is right now, but if it could chill out a little bit over there and serve it a party with my friends with a nice salmon.

PILAR:          Yeah, it’s very successful in UK. It goes really well with Thai food.

ANGELO:     Because there’s no sugar here.

PILAR:          Yeah. Maybe when many people start with the wines they say I don’t like the rosé. I say no, taste it. It’s not sweet.

ANGELO:     Yeah. There’s no sugar at all.

PILAR:          So that’s the idea. It’s a dry wine with a great acidity. So for, you serve cold or for summer salads. Seafood.

ANGELO:     Yeah. This is the, this is the salmon wine. In the Northwest we serve a lot of salmon at parties.

DEREK:        For me this is not a rosé. That’s why we call it old vine pale. Because if it were in a black glass… It has tannins. It has…

ANGELO:     It does. The acidity is balanced. There’s the tannins over there.

PILAR:          Yes.

ANGELO:     It’s very light and refreshing.

PILAR:          We keep it in barrels for six months.

ANGELO:     Six months in a barrel.

PILAR:          Hoping it would round it out.

ANGELO:     Yeah, round it up in your mouth. Okay.

This is a patio wine, for you know, well let’s put it in Celsius, when it’s 30 degrees outside. You don’t want to have nothing to do in the afternoon.

PILAR:          Like today.

ANGELO:     Exactly. You want to just sit down over there. You can drink this. I can drink two bottles of this. It’s fine.

DEREK:        What we found is no one wants a patio wine that comes out in summer. This comes out October, normally.

ANGELO:     Okay.

DEREK:        But the idea is a to…

PILAR:          By December it’s already in.

ANGELO:     Like spring time.

DEREK:        But it’s not doesn’t come out amongst the sales (could he be referring to holiday sales?).

This is something we’d like to start moving more in the US.

ANGELO:     I think so too. I actually, this one of my recommendation right now cause my summer’s coming.

PILAR:          Yes.

ANGELO:     And this, and this is, ya know, Is the cherry on the top the cake.

DEREK:        Yeah I think it’s really fun. Customers who have it do really well with it. What restaurants say they put this on the vino Matic machine, or whatever, on the thing.  And they say you put that there and the people look at the different bottle and they right that, what they say to me traveling is that we’ve never had a wine that gives you the eats like that wine. And then they smile and say I am a  restaurant, I sell food first so that’s a good thing.

ANGELO:     Yeah. This is by the glass.

DEREK:        And then what they say is that once they’ve had that by the glass people say, “What else do you have by these people?” you mean. And then you sell a bottle of whatever else.

ANGELO:     So just two problems for us. I cannot sell rosé in this bottle. A light red I can sell in the green bottle. If they go over then say it’s like red. You don’t call rosé we call light red.

PILAR:          Actually the label doesn’t say rosé, it says old vine pale.

ANGELO:     That’s awesome. [Multiple “That’s Awesome, fading out]

JG Commentary

That’s right Angelo. That does sound awesome for the summer. A light red made from Carignan. Sign me up. Anyway, there you learned a little bit about Pais and how it came about and now the conversation continues with a discussion and a little slurping of some of the outstanding single-vineyard bottlings that garage produces. Take it away.

DEREK:        So the first one is Truquilemu. Well up on the Cordillera de la Costa. Granitic soils This is a little further down in the Sauzal, but it’s similar in soil and this one we’ll talk about afterwards because it’s further inland in kind of an odd way.

This is pure, almost pure Cariñena with a single barrel of Monatrell, Mataró. This one has almost as much Garnacha  as it does Cariñena with a little bit of Mataró again. And this is pure Garnacha.

These are projects that the old, generally the old men had, the old Cariñena, and we decided for putting more Cariñena in and then we put the Garnacha and the Monastrell to make like a field blend out of Don Nivaldo and Señor Orteriez’ (sp) farm. And out of that there are 2,500 bottles. 2,800 hundred bottles every year, something like that, no more. Of this one there is no more than 7000, depending on the year. And this is thirty five hundred…

PILAR:          3000 maximum.

DEREK:        … something like that.

So the idea is that these are all different, but they’re kind of variations on a theme. I really liked what guy that writes for wine-searcher said…I really thought was interesting that someone wrote there. Well they did a mixed case from Chile. What you have to drink. And they go through the various wines, the famous, like the Montes Folly and bah, bah, bah, and he gets to us he say I’m not really going to chose one of these, any one from these guys will do. They’re all, how do you say, variations on a theme. They’re all wonderful and you just you just run through them and try them all, but I’m not going to choose one above the others. I thought that was kind of fun.

[The sounds of wine being poured and Angelo tasting]

ANGELO:     The grip on this one is bigger than that one.

PILAR:          Yeah.

ANGELO:     Wow.

Sowsow? Sauzal?

PILAR:          Sauzal. A very small town.

DEREK:        The herbs are different.

ANGELO:     Yeah. You. I get a little oregano and spicy…

DEREK:        That’s really nice.

PILAR:          It shows very well today.

DEREK:        45 was really, was hard, it was bit lighter…

ANGELO:     Wow.

DEREK:        … while 65 are in the stride.

in this dry. What can we say about these? These are all pretty, um.

PILAR:          I would like to say that if you taste the wines they are different. I mean they show the place where they come from. But you see a connection between the wines between the varieties that it has tannins, really ripe tannins. The have a grip, very balanced acidity.

ANGELO:     You can say, okay, this is a lot of acidity, but these two here with the very nice grip.

PILAR:          Yes. I think the Garnacha does.

ANGELO:     Yeah. And then just give, you see the, the impact of the wine.

PILAR:          Yeah. You need a dish of beef or something to eat with this wine.

ANGELO:     You know I, I, I like big wines in a reserve way, ya know. Initially, initially it’s just the…. because the complexity of this wine here and it’s still go round my mouth and just …(smack, smack, smack). I think sometimes the foods help but sometimes the food you need, just not too little time to understand better the wine. The wine is still talking to you before you have the next bite of the steak.

PILAR:          I like because you feel the dryness, but not, not in the tongue or your gum.

ANGELO:     Is outside.

PILAR:          Here and in the front there, is come from the grapes not coming from the wood or tannins that you add.

DEREK:        To me this one a little bit bigger, but these are quite low. This is like, this is less than 13.5, both of these… alcohol.

ANGELO:     But you can see the…like the other ones.

DEREK:        Here it’s a little above…

PILAR:          It’s garnacha, I mean it’s really hard to make a Garnacha with 12.5.

DEREK:        What happens here is, this has literally pH of 3.3 and acid 6.15, it, it almost has numbers like a Cariñena. I mean sometimes it’s, uhhh….

 

[More lip smacking noises]

 

ANGELO:     Whew. Delicious.

DEREK:        I really like this one.

ANGELO:     You see the evolution coming with the gripping and especially with tannins, the acidity. Wow.

DEREK:        This. Is my favorite today. The 65 wins.

[next wine]

This is a little dopey.

ANGELO:     The sixty five?

DEREK:        Yeah. Well, this first one to me is just… in kind of dumb period.

PILAR:          Mmm, they have their…phase.

DEREK:        It’s got the nose.

PILAR:          [says something about years]

ANGELO:     Because you put it side by side. No, but you put it side by side. You put a side by side. They’re different character, they’re different.

DEREK:        But most days this one goes straight to people’s heart. Just like a sultry tango it just the nails it and the herbs are slightly different.

ANGELO:     But you see these two here is a similarity. But this guy here is just a monster.

DEREK:        This is just (says something about the name of the vineyard)…

ANGELO:     [Angelo talking over Derek] This is a monster.

DEREK:        …this is further inland but what happens here… it’s a very interesting vineyard.  It’s next to a river, but the river flows down from the Cordillera de la Costa. So it’s like an alluvial river bank vineyard, but the silt or the soils and it’s the make of the soils is granitic, so you don’t have those same round stones and it changes as the acid profile changes many things in the wine.  It’s kind of a fun one because in the end you often speak about in this area it’s the river that flows backwards. It flows towards the Andes and then it finds its way to another river combines and flows back out to the ocean.

ANGELO:     This is lot of wine. The third one is just…a lot of wine.

DEREK:        Garnacha is still kind of making its way the, uh… in Chile you wouldn’t really think of Garnacha. There’s a couple. But they’re not really well known, they’re all tiny productions like this, and they’re all very different. There’s someone doing something interesting in the north.

ANGELO:     [Angelo exhales] Pilar, this definitely is a steak wine.

PILAR:          It’s my dad’s favorite.

ANGELO:     This is a steak wine. It’s a lot of wine inside this bottle. But this definitely you see: Beginning. Middle. Monster. You see you, you. A little light but, but this like you said your favorite today…

DEREK:        This and the next year is the one that did really well with Luis Gutierrez is here and it was kind of a fun one because this is the year we start using a lot of reintroducing the lignified stems. We did a little bit in 15 and then a lot and 16 and the tannins just changed, they’re just different.

ANGELO:     Whew. The 69. OH. Delicious.

DEREK:        This is a property that we would manage more than just for us. We actually sell some of the fruit.

ANGELO:     Cab Franc.

DEREK:        This Franc is a hundred and ten years old. It’s been quite an adventure to take it on properly. We used to buy kilos from it and now we manage it and it’s a lot more work, but we can get the alcohol to come down, we can get a little more of the herbally nature, but it’s still pretty, pretty big in this year.

ANGELO:     Which one is this? This is the Cab Sauv. OK.

Cab Franc you know, have his way back in people’s palates in America.

DEREK:        Cab Franc is like a love hate thing; those people love it and people who…

ANGELO:     By the way, this Cab Franc  is having a totally different character from me. But they have a good tannins around the mouth.

PILAR:          There’s a different smell. Like there’s more meats…

ANGELO:     Yeah, I was gonna say a lot of…

PILAR:          Bramble

ANGELO:     Black tea.

PILAR:          It’s more rosés, more fruit.

ANGELO:     But you have a black tea in this.

DEREK:        To me it’s like a bit of a bay leaf which would be Cab Franc. See, and both of these are from the Maule. We make a cab and the cab franc from the Maipo. But we don’t…what we don’t like to do as the clients like this one or the other one we like to just rotate through them and start delivering them when they’re more ready to drink. So if one’s a little harder a year or we sell through one faster we start in on the other one right away.

It’s 17 that the alcohol on this comes down, right Pilar. I was really looking forward to tasting that with you this week, but you didn’t get a chance to come down there.

ANGELO:     The 74? No, this is 82. The 82 is?

DEREK:        The 82 is still 14, but this comes down to less than 13 the following year. I’m really interested in trying it.

ANGELO:     How about the74? How much alcohol is in the 74?

DEREK:        [Checking website]

                        It’s not here yet. I don’t know why 74 is not up yet. Who’s in charge of this.

PILAR:          I don’t know if they’re going to fire me.

ANGELO:     Fire him. Pilar, send him home.

DEREK:        I think that it just kind of blew past me Pilar. I don’t think I…

PILAR:          If you really want to know, it’s on file.

DEREK:        14.1.

ANGELO:     No. Not high.

DEREK:        It’s kind of funny cause when we started, as people who live in Chile, um, when we started making Cab from somewhere other than Maipo, it took us a while to get our heads around it and what we were surprised by was that the critics actually like the Maule ones better. But not the Chilean critics. Chileans have this thing with them.

ANGELO:     Local. Different.

DEREK:        It’s kind of funny in the end even the Franc too they all say “for us it’s not Franc-ee because we’re sued to Cab Franc from the Maipo”, but when they tasted this they said “that’s Franc-ier than the Maipo” and we all look at them kind of…

One of the write ups of, I can’t remember whom, they compared it to Tondonia, which to me was just. It’s kind of like, whoopie if someone says your wine’s like a Margaux. It’s kind of like, yeah right. But when they say something like Tondonia youre kind of like, wow, that’s cool.

There were two that he compared them to this year. Ah, it was another one of the other blends of the Carignans he said it was like a Barolo Chianato.

ANGELO:     Barolo Chianato?

DEREK:        Barolo Chianato. Have you had Barolo Chianato?

ANGELO:     Mmmmhuh.

DEREK:        I was like, What the hell’s that? I had to look it up and then everyone is like, loves Barolo Chianato and I was like, oh nuts.

Oh come on. I think we should make a Chianato

ANGELO:     Chianato here?

DEREK:        Instead of making a port or something like that. I think something that has, cause in the end it’s like a port but it’s it’s with medicinal, right?

PILAR:          Yeah, but that doesn’t really count.

[Lastly, the trio talks about Perverso or La Maldita Solera]

DEREK:        And this is a very ugly label but it shows the point.

ANGELO:     Perverso  [Angelo chuckles]

DEREK:        The reason that we can, how do you say, take chances. The reason we can take chances, it’s not that we take chances, but when we make these wines, when there is a barrel of 8 or a 15 or 21, depending on how big the lot is and there’s a barrel that talks too loud and once you put it in the blend there isn’t harmony anymore, it’s the one that you notice it too much.

We put those away for a third or fourth winter and we make a solera that is perverso. So in the end you can, how do you say, make mistakes, but you end up using and regaining something. Unfortunately we’ve never been able to send this to the US because no one will you work with the name.

ANGELO:     I want to know if that’s true over there you advertising the label. “Fix bad relationship you failed”, then I wanted five of this right now .

DEREK:        We talked about doing this for the US.

PPILAR:        We’re going to change the name.

DEREK:        What was it going to be? Maldita…

PILAR:          Maldita Solera.

ANGELO:     I like it. But I like it perverso too. Evil. Evil.

PILAR:          Yeah, but there’s an issue with the name with the church to make sure.

ANGELO:     Ah, you have someone here.

PILAR:          No, no, no. I mean that they relate the name pervert.

ANGELO:     Ohhhh, ok.

PILAR:          So we’re going to change the name.

ANGELO:     I can see that much. Maldita? I like that too.

PILAR:          Maldita Solera.

[JG’s closing comments]

Hmmm, Barolo Chianato in Chile. Oh that Derek. But the Maldita Solera sounds interesting. Hopefully we’ll see that in the US soon. And what’s up with Angelo loving the 69 and getting all giggly over the perverso. Hmmm, maybe he needs to get out a little more. Just kidding. Anyway there you go. Thanks again to Derek and Pilar of Garage Wine Company for taking the time.

Loire Valley (Part One) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-12T13:48:42+00:00February 11th, 2019|France, Rhône Valley, Travel Report|

Our first day in the Loire brought us to a cloudy Touraine where we spent most of our day with the leadership team at Loire Propriétés, and checked in with Christophe Godet at Domaine de Marcé. 

Loire Propriétés

Our tasting took place at Vignerons Oisly & Thesee, a cooperative holding 500 acres of mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc in the small towns of Oisly and Thesee which usually are considered the best in the Touraine region. You know by now how we feel about cooperatives – That when managed strategically they can turn out plenty of individual, engaging wines. Loire Propriétés is one such cooperative, and actually what you’d call a “supercooperative” (ie a large parent cooperative made up multiple smaller cooperatives). 250 winegrower members, organized into 10 smaller cooperatives, make up the group, many of who are bottling estate grown wines, some from iconic Loire chateaux! Sound interesting? Estate grown wines at a cooperative? Yes! As we’ve said before there are some progressive co-ops out there these days urging you to rethink everything you think you know about the category.
Caves de la Loire “Les Anges” 18 Sauvignon Blanc, juicy, very good
Les Anges 18 Chardonnay, boring, but full and fruity, would make people happy though
Caves de la Loire “Les Anges” 18 Chenin Blanc, crisp, more acidity
Caves de la Loire “Les Anges” 17 Pinot Noir, good, a little short on character, but what do you expect for pricing this sharp
Caves de la Loire “Les Anges” 18 Cabernet Franc, dry, aromatic, a little funky
Caves de la Loire “Elysis” 18 Rosé d’Anjou, fresh, nice sweetness
Vignerons du Pallet “Les Petites Sardines” 17 Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, easy, soft style
Vignerons du Pallet “Jubilation” 15 Muscadet Cru Le Pallet, complex, class
O&T 17 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc,  showing well, good acidity
Domaine du Grand Cerf 17 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, typical, full, juicy
Vins de Rabelais “Les Romances” 17 Vouvray, seems sweetish, but technically isn’t, apparently
Vins de Rabelais 15 Chinon “Fauteuil Rouge,” mature and rich, There is better value than this at LP
Les Roches Blanches 17  Vouvray full, typical, fresh
Chateau de Valmer 17 Vouvray, character, aromatic
Chateau de Brossay 18 Cabernet d’Anjou, flavor, full, some sweetness
Domane Croix St. Louis 15 Chinon, somewhat mature and boring
Chateau de Mauny 18 Rosé de Loire, some complexity and depth
Chateau de Mauny Crémant de Loire Brutt, fresh, soft, very good
Chateau de Brissac 14 Crémant de Loire Brut, fine, balanced, soft
Domaine Touchais NV Saumur Brut, serious, dry and fuill
Chateau de Valmer NV Vouvray Brut, rich, full, long, bravo
We tasted dozens of 2018 O&T wines from tank; most of which showed very well. Below is some tank tasting “reality television” for you:
Very good tasting overall. great stuff at very competitive prices. We pulled the trigger on  Chateau de Mauny, Chateau de Valmer, and Vignerons du Pallet (including the very fine bottle aged “Jubilation” Cuvee).  Does the whole Vignerons du Pallet thing perk your ears? This is a fairly small, atypical coop of 10 members, all from Le Pallet in the heart of Muscadet. They have 250 acres and an average production of some 800.000 bottles. All 10 members have their own properties, they bottle and sell a part of their production themselves and another part goes to the coop for use in a larger appellation “blend.” The President is one of the owners and so is the winemaker. The facilities are at one member’s winery. “Le Pallet” the vineyard is one of the Crus of Muscadet, there are seven crus in all, and is considered by many as the best. The soil is interesting, the northwest part of the town consists of light colored rocks (Roches Blanches) mixed with sand and the southwest area is dark colored (Roches Noires) and sand. Their “Jubilation” bottling referenced above represents a new movement in the appellation towards intense, bottle aged Muscadet with better selection, later harvesting, and longer aging on the lees. These wines are very different, more serious, fuller and real aging potential. For some stupid reason wines in this category cannot be called “sur lie” although they stay much longer on them. Odd.

Domaine Marcé

This Domaine is a few kilometers down the road from Les Vignerons Oisly & Thesee and the idea here is to bring you a premium Touraine Sauvignon option – Something a step up in price and complexity from O+T for the select few accounts smart enough to know how much value Christophe Godet can pack into a bottle. So many accounts are glass pouring “Vin de Loire” Sauvignon Blanc as a Sancerre alternative but this approach (something from an individualistic appellation) is a better way to go. In all this is an 80 acre estate, mostly planted to Touraine Sauvignon Blanc. A part of 12 acres has been classified as Oisly which is a new “Cru” similar to Reuilly, Quincy, or Sancerre. Farming at Domaine Marcé is organic, and most vines are pretty damn old. More tank tasting “reality television” for you below!
As you see above we tasted many different tanks of 2018 Touraine and Oisly Sauvignon with Christophe and overall we were able to leave with a better feel for this unsung appellation.
Domaine Marcé 18 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, good body, ripeness, balanced acid, a lot of Sauvignon for the price.
Domaine Marcé 18 Oisly Sauvignon Blanc, somewhat bigger and better but the price difference does not seem wholly justified this vintage.
Great domaine, great people. Let’s try to get more Touraine Sauvignon out there in the world shall we?

Rhône Valley (Part Three) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-08T16:43:21+00:00February 8th, 2019|France, Rhône Valley, Travel Report|

Day three in the Rhône meant a few lesser-known producers to most of you…

Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille

The brother/sister team of Laurent Fayolle and Céline Nodin operate this small family estate in Gervans, where they produce Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and St. Peray. Crozes-Hermitage is a somewhat weird appellation – Originally it was close to the Hermitage hill, stretching to the North, covering a mere 750 acres in Crozes, Largange, Gervans and two other tiny villages where the soils are very similar to Hermitage. Over time the acreage was expanded by a whopping 3800 acres, but in another area, South of Tain- l’Hermitage, on totally different soils. The idea was that more production would make it easier to sell. This worked for the “new” production, but not really for the “old” as production is lower due to the (granite) soils and rather steep hills. This also explains a rather big difference in prices between the two. Fayolle is one of the very few “original gangsta” producers left, as they are focused on making wine from individual vineyards in the original appellation boundaries, most notably on sites known locally as Pontaix and the Clos des Cornirets.

Almost all of Fayolle’s wine is sold within France. We will take what we can get.

Mr. Laurent Fayolle himself

Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 St. Peray, 100% Marsanne, some new wood. Fairly unknown, but lovely wine, dry, floral, lots of flavor.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2018 Crozes Hermitage Blanc “Pontaix,” (from barrel), bright, citrus, showing well.

Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2018 Hermitage Blanc (from barrel), rich bordering on bombastic but with focus somehow, interesting stuff, can’t wait to see this in bottle.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2018 St. Peray Blanc (from barrel), Young, balanced, can’t wait to see this develop as well.

Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 Crozes Hermitage “Sens,” entry-level C-H, 30 year vines, including some purchased grapes, some new wood. Dark, fat, tannic, tight, very promising.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2016 Crozes Hermitage “Pontaix,” single vyd, 40 year vines, 20% new wood. More elegant, fine, balanced.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 Crozes Hermitage “Cornirets,” single vineyard, 60 year vines. Just bottled, but showing well, tons of fruit and full.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 Hermitage, just bottled. Big boy, fat, concentrated, tannic, smokey.

2017 and 2018 are both very good vintages. We also like 2016 but note that wines from this vintage are different in style from the others, a little lighter and more elegant.

Crous St. Martin

The brother/sister duo of Eric and Veronique Bonnet led us through a packed lineup of new and upcoming releases at their home base of Domaine La Bastide Saint Dominique. The property sits smack dab in one of the best sections of Chateauneuf-du-Pape – Even as little kids they knew they were in a prime zone for Grenache, if they ran outside to play and veered right they were at Beaucastel and if they veered left a few hundred meters they ended up at Clos du Caillou! There are three things you’ll see coming out of this property, Domaine La Bastide Saint Dominique, the production of which consists of wines made from grapes on the estate, Reserve Saint Dominique which is a second label made from younger vines and some purchased fruit, and Crous St. Martin which consists of both estate and purchased fruit and is a collaboration between Eric Bonnet and our good friend Harry Bosmans. We are ordering our first shipments of Domaine and Reserve St. Dominique this month, and you can expect more information on that front (with more background, tasting notes, etc) closer to arrival (the final lineup of available states is still coming together). Let’s just say that there will be some excitement.

The lovely Eric and Veronique Bonnet!

While availability is pretty tiny, Crous St. Martin’s Cotes du Rhone is worth a mention here – The grapes come from the same spot that Beaucastel makes their Coudoulet from,  a zone in the northern part of Chateauneuf du Pape just outside the official appellation boundary, as there weren’t vines in this area when the appellation was originally classified. The Rasteau was just outstanding – Rasteau is the only appellation in the Rhone where grey clay and brown clay both coexist at the root level, this results in a forward wine with violet pastille aromatics that you must experience firsthand…with that in mind I suppose we will import as much as we can get!
Crous St. Martin 17 Cotes du Rhone, full, rich solid.
Crous St. Martin 17 Rasteau, concentrated, big, outstanding.
Crous St. Martin 17 Gigondas, dark, big, fat, a little rustic
Crous St. Martin 17 CHN, typical, concentrated, well made
Crous St. Martin 16 Cairanne, typical, if a little lean. From the last plot of Cairanne on the Rasteau border, high proportion of Mourvedre
Crous St. Martin 16 Lirac, easy, tannic
Overall, very nice set of wines. Again, stay tuned for an announcement on the Domaine La Bastide St Dominique and Reserve St. Dominique wines.

Domaine Brunely

Madame Carichon led us through a quick lineup at this perennial, rustic favorite in Vacqueyras. Have a virtual tour of the property right here to get a better feel. Total holdings include 198 acres of vines spread between Vacqueyras, Cairanne, Ventoux, Gigondas, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Stylistically, winemaking veers towards the traditional spectrum here, where no wood is used other than in their Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Farming is natural.

Madame Carichon

Domaine Brunely 18 Vacquyeras Blanc (tank), Musky, tropical, big.
Domaine Brunely 18 Ventoux Rouge, spicy thanks to Syrah base, one hell of a wild Ventoux
Domaine Brunely 17 Ventoux Rouge,, similar to 18 but with tannin
Domaine Brunely 18 Cotes du Rhone Villages, mineral loaded, outstanding
Domaine Brunely 18 Cairanne, simple, a bit closed
Domaine Brunely 17 Vacqueyras Rouge, full rich attack, black fruit, power, length, nice square tannin
Domaine Brunely 18 Vacqueyras Rouge, closed, less intensity than the 2017
Domaine Brunely 17 Vacqueyras “Tour Aix Cailles,” Syrah and old vine Mourvedre make for “big everything,” dense without being syrupy, BRAVO
Domaine Brunely 17 Gigondas Rouge, fleshy, mineral
Domaine Brunely 17 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, closed
Domaine Brunely 18 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, deeper than the 17, slightly reductive now, huge tannin

Rhône Valley (Part Two) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-05T07:40:59+00:00February 5th, 2019|France, Rhône Valley, Travel Report|

We keep things going on day two in the Rhône…

Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières

Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières is a very old family estate, whose name comes from a place of pilgrimage visited by the Provençal people in the middle ages who believed that the fountain on the property would protect them from the plague. Claude Roux and his cousin Jean-Pierre have so many generations of Gigondas wine making experience in their family that they don’t know exactly how many of their relatives have been involved up to now – Antique writings suggest that this Domaine existed as far back as the 900’s.  Fortunately this tradition is continuing with Claude’s children, Isabelle and Julien, who are gradually taking over the day to day responsibilities of farming, production, and administration. Vineyard holdings total 74 acres in Gigondas, Sablet, and Cotes du Rhone and the winery is based in the center of their principal vineyard holding, a field of very old vines (mainly Grenache, many up to 110 years in age). This is a particularly interesting sub-site in Gigondas as it is set in a protected valley underneath the shadows of the iconic Dentilles de Montmirail. This means stronger and longer cooling winds versus other top estates in the region, which means more freshness in the finished wine. Even when you are driving up, you know you are rolling into something special:
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 17 Sablet Blanc “Montmartel,” open knit, tremendous purity, wish Sablet Blanc was easier to sell!
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 18 Cotes du Rhone, full, rich and unbelievably ready to go, good pedigree, this is mostly declassified Gigondas (!)
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 17 Sablet Rouge “Montmartel,” garrigue driven, higher % of Syrah gives this pepper notes and thick tannin, what a value
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 17 Lirac “Les Pellegrin” (tank), lots of CO2, need to taste finished wine
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 16 Rasteau “Les Ribes,” topsoil here is salmon orange from iron content, concentrated, very rustic example
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 17 Gigondas “Les Mourres,” dark, big, fat, integrated, lots to like here!
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 16 Gigondas “Bois de Mourres,” deep, tremendous concentration, still some obvious barrel flavors up front, we wonder what this would be like without the wood influence as the vine material is so good it is almost unheard of.

The highlights here, as usual, were the Cotes du Rhone, Sablet Rouge “L’Olivet,” the Cotes du Rhone, and the Gigondas “Les Mourres,” – All are naked examples of their kind and just screaming for the rustic bistro-like fare most of you enjoy making and devouring at home.

…or you could make your life easy and just drink it with giant fatty chunks of smoked pork jowl and back fat!

Domaine de la Charbonnière

Veronique Maret led us through an energizing “breakfast” of new and upcoming releases. Veronique is young, serious in the best way, and stacked with ambition. In her young but very capable hands this remains a traditional estate, and she has converted all of the Domaine’s farming to organic practices. The “entry level” CDP is outstanding, individual CdP cuvées are produced from the best blocks of the family’s best plots, and a sappy vielles Vignes blend is not to be missed in any vintage – in 15/16/17, as it contains a lot of Grenache from the La Crau vineyard in it, and as you likely know (unless you live under a bus) La Crau is one of the best individual plots in the entire appellation. We’ve had a stellar string of vintages here, let’s review them real quick as we have 2015 here and upcoming vintages allocated to us for shipment…The 2015 vintage is very good, typical warm year, the wines are a little closed now, should be better after a trip across the water. For us 2016 is better, more color, more elegant and a spicy character.  The 2017’s are outstanding, dark, fat, polished and tons of fruit. This is mostly because of the small crop and the good growing season in CDP.
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, ripe, rich, soft, benchmark
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, fresher, pretty mature
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Vacqueyras, dark, typical, concentrated (there is only the straight V. in 17)
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, concentrated, fruit, dark, full
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape “Mourre des Perdrix,” advanced, ripe, seems light
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape “Vieilles Vignes,” much better tight, concentrated
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape “Cuvee Hautes Brusquires,” focused, masculine, fruit
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Vacqueyras, dark, powerfull, tannic
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Vacqueyras “Cuvee Spéciale”, bigger, darker, dry now
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, wonderfully balanced, full, typical
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape “Mourre des Perdrix, fine, fruit, soft
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape “Cuvee Hautes Brusquires,” More finesse than we’d expect from what is usually a “big” bottling, fresh
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape “Vieilles Vignes,”, focused, complete, concentrated
In an earlier tasting (Winter 2018) Frank thought 17 could be as good as 16 here, but our experience now indicates this may no longer be the case. Most of the 17’s are really good (you’ll all gush for them upon arrival in 18 months), but the 16’s are flawless, concentrated and balanced…They will
age well, but we would be tempted to drink them young. We will buy as deep as Verionique’s allocations allow, and smart merchants and somms will do the same!

Domaine Le Clos des Lumières

Domaine le Clos des Lumières is a 50 hectare family farm founded in 1946 by the grandfather of the domaine’s current vigneron, Gérald Serrano.  The ambitious and talented Gérald Serrano is solely responsible for the recent “coming out” of this estate – Prior to taking things over in 2003 Gérald’s father was selling all grapes on the estate to the local cooperative. We had fun shooting VR pics with them, here is a look on Google Maps – They were intent on holding the pose which was basically perfect. The kid on the right? He is the newest generation, just started on the tractor, and you’ll get to know him well.

Having grown up on the property, Gérald is intimately familiar with the terroir here.  The oldest vines now edge 60 years in age and this land really seems to “pack the character in.”.  We’ve sold massive amounts of Rhone wine over the last forty years, and these are the most well-received Cotes du Rhone values we’ve carried in our history.

These guys seem to have a deep understanding of what’s going on in the vineyard and in the market, they are probably the hardest working partners we have, and as Frank will tell you it is pretty amazing to see how forward thinking they are. The potential here is huge, we have only scratched the surface. When they heard what we were up to last Spring in terms of the national expansion and the whole idea of “expecting some grapeness,” the Serrano family went out and bought another 70 acres of vineyard land, bringing their total holdings to 300 acres owned, plus substantial long term contracts. Between our two companies we have two parties ready to bring it!

Barrows ‘n hoses!

Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR Blanc, light, fresh, very good
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Chardonnay, full, round
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Viognier, a little low on aromatics, which to Frank is a good thing
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Caladoc Gris, fresh and fine, right color for Gris, 3.000L. available, which we reserved
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Caladoc Rosé, more flavor. Actually the same wine as the Gris, just a different part of the pressing
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Syrah Rosé, more structure, more acidity
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Grenache Rosé, typical, easy
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Petit Verdot, outstanding and interesting as there is little Petit Verdot and even less as Rosé. 9000L. available
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR Rosé, full and complex
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 Petit Verdot, dark, tight, depth
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 Marsalan,/Syrah, dark, ripe, tannin
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Merlot, dark, full, fruit, tannin. Outstanding
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Marsalan, dark, soft lovely. 10000L. available
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Syrah, dark, ripe, rich
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 CDR, solid
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR BIB, fruity, easy
Domaine Clos des Lumières 16 CDR Autrefois, rustic, ok
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 CDR Autrefois,, beter, more fruit and tannin
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR Autrefois, some reduction, should be fine
Domaine Clos des Lumières 16 CDRV, serious, a little mature
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 CDRV, better now, concentrated
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDRV, the best.
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR sans sulfites, good
Among the new wines we committed to the Gris (everything available, working on the label this week), a starting load of half CDR bottles (filling your requests my friends), and we are working on new bag in box package because anyone who knows me well knows of my hatred for Papyrus font (and the new package is looking sick so get ready for some full delivery trucks and empty shelves).
The no sulfur bottling of CDR showed well – We will test some in the elements here in the US, and if it fails to referment or go wild on us you’ll be seeing that as well.

Rhône Valley (Part One) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-01T17:48:18+00:00February 1st, 2019|France, Rhône Valley, Travel Report|

Mike Temple had a soft spot for Rhône wines and therefore the region has always been a strength in our portfolio. We spent several days both on our own and with the perennially charismatic Harry Bosmans.

Arnoux Pere et Fils

Vacqueyras’ oldest winery, Arnoux is centered smack dab in the middle of Vacqueyras center and takes up a few blocks with its various buildings. From modern operations to traditional ones to inexplicably idiosyncratic setups, we pride ourselves in our diversity of tastes!  For better or worse! Jean-Francois Arnoux is the latest generation of his family to run the ship at this historic house, and take us through a Rhône lineup he did. Tasting notes are below but the short answer is that we’ve made the decision to double down on what Arnoux does best – the old school, and you’ll see more quantity and more focus on their Vieux Clocher line from us in 2019 and beyond. Below is a video walk through of what has to be one of the more timeless cellar setups in the Rhône Valley.

Arnoux 16 Ventoux, dry, rustic
Arnoux 17 Ventoux, similar to the 16 just younger
Arnoux 17 Cotes du Rhone “Vieux Clocher,” some fruit, dry, rustic, traditional
Arnoux 16 Cotes du Rhone Seigneur de Lauris, richer fruit, garrigue, nice
Arnoux 17 Cotes du Rhone Seigneur de Lauris, fresher than the 16, slightly more going on
Arnoux 16 Cairanne “Vieux Clocher,” quite good, outperformed most of the Cairanne we’ve tasted on this trip, with the telltale floral Cairanne nose
Arnoux 17 Cairanne “Vieux Clocher,” more fruit, but dry right now, should come around well
Arnoux 16 Vacqueyras “Vieux Clocher,” good flavor, some fruit, traditional, we appreciate the style
Arnoux 17 Vacqueyras “Vieux Clocher,” somewhat lighter than the 16 but that is just fine with us, as it is, again, traditional
Arnoux 15 Vacqueyras 15 “Penitents,” fuller, but dry and d0ubling down on rustic

Frank interrogating Jean-Francois on adoption of modern hose storage practices

Domaine Pelaquie

I have to say this was one hell of an eye opening winery visit and it reminds me why we take these sleepless, jambon fueled journeys in the first place. We’ve long admired Pelaquie’s best in class examples of Laudun Rouge and Blanc, but never experienced their bombastic Cotes du Rhone values firsthand, at least not with an understanding of the simple but magic approach that results in a pure, focused, rich yet slippery core of Grenache goodness in every sip (sorry to tease, but more on Pelaquie’s proprietary technique later via video post to coincide with the arrival of the massive initial load of Cotes du Rhone Rouge and Rosè we booked on the spot…check back here in 45 days). Packaging was always a bit of an issue here but that was taken care of when we walked into the office and saw not one but three final draft options for a revised label that matches the spirit of this house. We decided on the below wardrobe, and the reference to Le Rive Droite (aka the underdog left bank of the Rhone) fits the whole spirit at Pelaquie like a glove. Frank will be the first to say that this is the finest Tavel in Tavel. All of you must agree if your appetite for it last year is any indication. 2017 was the warmest year in Lirac/Tavel/Laudun since 2003, but for some reason the whites have the highest acidity they’ve ever measured in the appellation…probably due to the 2-3 months with absolutely no rain which basically meant concentrated everything. Luc Pelaquie believes that in order to make balanced Rhone whites you need to use slow ripening varietals (ie Bourboulenc and Clairette). More than a few people will tell you that this little area here is the very best in the Rhone for expressive whites. We certainly feel that way right now.

Mocking up the final label tweak on a deliciously unfiltered Tavel tank sample!

Domaine Pelaquie 17 Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun Blanc, led by Bourboulenc and Clairette but uses all six grapes allowed in the appellation. Very balanced, classic stuff even if rich this go-round
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Lirac Blanc, broad, waxy, full wood but plenty of accompanying acid, modern
Domaine Pelaquie 18 Tavel, firm but open, dark, settling out, another winner this year
Domaine Pelaquie 18 Cotes du Rhone Rouge (tank), rich and loaded with flavor, home run
Domaine Pelaque 17 Cotes du Rhone Rouge, garrigue loaded nose, lovely texture, almost silky, total steal
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun Rouge, superpie Laudun, Mourvedre adds the structure and spice needed to keep this interesting
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Lirac Rouge, MEATY! Only Grenache and Mourvedre used here, lack of Syrah gives this a specific personality. Lirac and Rasteau have the best Mourvedre in the Rhone, and if you add even 10% Syrah it totally changes the wine so as Luc would say, why add it. Lirac is planet Earth’s absolute temperature limit for Mourvedre.

Another reason these are so good? Look at the thick old vines that surround the Domaine!

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Provence – Winter 2019

By |2019-01-30T16:58:30+00:00January 30th, 2019|France, Travel Report|

Provence isn’t always sunny and warm – Temperatures were in the 40’s with a wicked mistral that made us feel like we were sitting in the stands of Soldier Field during a January playoff game. We had a bit more time today than normal and were able to spend quality time with two very important producers here at Grape, Domaine Sorin and Chateau Bas.

Domaine Sorin

We met with Olivier Santini, who owns and operates the iconic Domaine Paternel in Cassis.  Olivier purchased Domaine Sorin several years ago after the untimely passing of Luc Sorin – This acquisition fulfilled his dream of vineyard property in Bandol and allowed him to feed the increasing demand for his Cotes de Provence Rose.

Domaine Sorin 2018 Cotes de Provence Rosé “Terra Amata,” pale pink, CDP rose with real finesse, very ready
Domaine Sorin 2015 Bandol Rouge, deep color, cherry, licorice, built to last but in the window now
Domaine Sorin 2016 Bandol Rouge, typical profile, but not nearly the complexity as the 15 and still a bit disjointed
Domaine Paternel 2017 Cassis “Blanc de Blancs,” aromatic, with dense palate that shows layers of stone fruit, plenty to get excited about here

The Cassis Blanc was an eye opener for me as I’d never been to Cassis or consumed the wines from this tiny AOP.  Very little Cassis is exported as the demand is sky high in this gorgeous, touristed, seaside appellation. The pricing? As you’d expect pricing on AOP Cassis is extremely high. Frank will say way too high, I vote to offer some on a presell when the 2018 vintage is available as Olivier Santini will have a pallet or two available for allocation. I dare anyone to find a superior pairing with Bouillabaisse.

Cotes de Provence Rosé also continues to climb in price due to insatiable global demand. We’ve worked hard to keep pricing reasonable for you on Sorin, not without some yelling and screaming at the winery, such was the episode between Frank and Olivier this evening as the sun set over this dreamlike property overlooking the Mediterranean. Our guess is that Cotes de Provence pricing has reached a peak and will stabilize (or even decrease a touch) by next year.

Finalizing 2019 packaging with Olivier Santini

It is also worth noting that some time was spent tweaking the packaging on Sorin’s Cotes de Provence Rosé – The changes we made during our visit will debut not in this current vintage but rather with the release of the 2019 next winter.

Chateau Bas

The property is owned by Mrs. von Blanquet, an older lady living in Baden-Baden, widow of the founder of Gaggenau kitchens. The estate is 170 acres in total, all organic, mostly planted with rosé destined red varietals (mostly Grenache and Cinsault), along with red destined red varietals (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah), and whites including Clairette, Bourboulenc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vermentino.

It is as historic a property as they come, all farming is organic, although the cellar is modern and efficient, where they produce 3 levels, Chateau Bas as we know it, the premium Pierres du Sud in 3 colours and the iconic Le Temple in red and white. The reds in the latter ranges are really good and so is the white Le Temple. All reds get decent “elevage” time, a minimum of two years in bottle prior to release. They all get more or less wood.

Organic rows at Chateau Bas

The Coteaux d’Aix en Provence is a relatively small appellation, there are some 70 producers including 3 cooperatives. The region is traditionally a red wine producer, the rosé trend is led by economics rather than custom, but it turned out that the area produces some pretty good rosés which seem to have a little more body than the more elegant examples we see from the Eastern part of Provence. The whites at Chateau Bas are rather full bodied and fat and age well, they are considerably better than average in Provence.

Chateau Bas 2018 Blanc, fresh, straightforward, some spice
Pierre de Sud 2018 Blanc, similar, but better
Chateau Bas 2018 Rosé, fresh, solid, fine
Pierre de Sud 2018 Rosé, step up, more depth
Chateau Bas 2018 Rouge, solid and quite serious, good
Pierre de Sud 2015, even better

We should consider the Pierre de Sud at some point, with the more classic label and bottle. When you all are ready that is. Let us know.

Southern Burgundy and Beaujolais – Winter 2019

By |2019-01-28T04:15:38+00:00January 27th, 2019|Burgundy, France, Travel Report|

Day three was an eye-opener. Gerald Talmard introduces us to his friends and neighbors in Chardonnay, we gorge on wine soaked meat with the Jambon family @ Domaine Thulon, and finish up at Louis Picamelot’s brand new winery to taste what have to be the finest set of non-Champagne bubbles in France.

Gerald Talmard

Our visit to Talmard is always quick, as this is an efficient father/son operation with only two wines produced.  There is not much to talk about really as Gerald makes the best QPR Macon Chardonnay on the market and we beg for as much as he will give us. Talmard typifies 2018 as “2015, but more acidity”. He is right.

Gerald Talmard shows us 2018’s from tank

Talmard 18 Macon Chardonnay, fresh, good acidity, citrus, easy to drink.
Talmard 18 Macon-Uchizy, similar in style, more closed at this point.

He is playing with a new fermentation process that allows for lower use of SO2, and maybe that was where that extra paintbrush of Chardonnay goodness came from…We’ve rarely tasted wine this good at Talmard. Overachievement.  50,000 bottles available, 10,000 more than with the 2017!  Let’s have some fun!

Cadoles de Chardonnay

All of you have such an appetite for Gerald Talmard’s bombastic values in Macon Chardonnay and Macon Uchizy that he simply cannot supply all of your demand!  For this reason Gerald introduced us to his friends and neighbors at Cadoles de Chardonnay. This father/son operation is located several minutes from Gerald’s Domaine, and smack dab in the aptly named village of Chardonnay.  Until several years ago the Domaine was selling all of their production to the local cooperative in Lugny, but they now make and sell wines themselves as their quality is just too good to be lost in a village blend.  Here we have a family with deep/long ties to the land, and believe it or not they farm 10% of the total acreage in Chardonnay, all planted to Chardonnay of course! Everything is fermented in stainless steel, and most everything is aged in stainless steel save a dozen experimental barrels.

Patrick and Nicolas Laugere, doing their thing and doing it well

Cadoles de Chardonnay 18 Macon Chardonnay, lemon color, soft, fine, more complex and concentrated than Talmard. Priced a bit higher than Talmard but seems justified.
Big opportunity here.  You can expect our first load in Spring 2019. Available in all states.

Domaine Thulon

Domaine Thulon is located on the old estate of Château de Thulon (this castle towers over the Domaine), and was purchased by Annie and René Jambon in 1987 after they were “métayers” for 20 years on the same site (if the “métayer” thing, ie French sharecropping, is interesting to you have a look at this article by Andrew Jefford)  Their children Carine and Laurent are now running the estate, and a passion for experimentation sets them apart from peers in the region.  These are some of the best values in French wine we’ve come across in the last decade.

The Jambon Family

Domaine de Thulon 18 Beaujolais Villages Blanc, full fat, low acidity
Domaine de Thulon 18 Beaujolais Villages Rosé, firmer. fresh, good
Domaine de Thulon 18 Beaujolais Villages, fresh, fruit
Domaine de Thulon 17 Chiroubles, some reduction, dark, quite full
Domaine de Thulon 17 Regnié. firm, fresh, fruit, good acidity
Domaine de Thulon 17 Morgon concentration, more depth
Domaine de Thulon 17 Regnié VV, some wood aging, tight
Domaine de Thulon 16 Regnié VV, open, nice
Domaine de Thulon 18 Regnié, dark, full, round
Domaine de Thulon 18 Chiroubles, tight, a little dry
Domaine de Thulon 18 Morgon, full, aromatic, concentration
Domaine de Thulon 18 Regnié VV, intense
Domaine de Thulon 17 Beaujolais Villages Blanc “Montagnier,” wood aged, a little funky, why throw wood at such a good thing?
Domaine de Thulon 17 Viognier, nice acidity, probably not useful for us though
Domaine de Thulon 17 “Cerise,” funky, we had divided opinions on it with Frank a big no and Jeff a “hell yes”
The 18’s are going through what seems a somewhat difficult phase. 17’s were bottled not so long ago and need some time. The cellar and the wines were very cold.
The Beaujolais Villages and Chiroubles are made by carbonic maceration. The others are vinified classically (Burgundy-style). Everything takes place in a charmingly typical cellar for the area (have a look at our 360 photos here and more your cursor around for the full experience). After tasting we crossed the courtyard to dunk assorted meats into steaming pots of Beaujolais wine with the family – I’m trying to find a recipe link for you here but cannot find a thing.  Try this though…Simply pour a few bottles of Beaujolais wine into that dusty fondue pot someone gave you as a wedding present, add a chopped onion, a few cloves, some pepper, a few bay leaves, a bit of chicken stock, and a good dose of salt….sit around the table and dip meat into it….proceed to drink copious amounts of Cru Beaujolais.  Finish the meal with a wide assortment of cheese.  Now you are partying like the Jambon Family. What a way to warm up a blustery afternoon.

Louis Picamelot

Phillippe Chautard is the newest generation in the Picamelot family tree to operate this venerable sparkling wine house in Rully. We are safe to say these are the finest sparkling wines made in France outside of Champagne, and some of the top bottlings will beat plenty of Champagne when tasted blind. Mr. Chautard just finished the construction of a breathtaking new winery which is cut into the side of a hill. Have a look at our newly posted 360 photos on Google Street View.

Phillippe Chautard showing off his new toys

Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs Heritage 1926, PBL/CH/UGNI, non AOP, Traditional Method, pretty tasty if lacking some focus
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 15 Pinot Noir Rosé, well made,. fresh, right color
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 16 Terroirs, PN/CH/ALI, fresh, quite complex
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 15 Terroirs, more mature, good
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 15 “Chazot,” PN from St. Aubin, full-bodied, big wine
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 14 “Jeanne Thomas,” CH 85- ALI 15, big, complex
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 14 “Reipes” 2014, 100 Chardonnay from St. Aubin, bigger, fine, complex
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 13 “Jean Baptiste” 80% Chardonnay, 20% Aligote, older, mixed opinions here, you probably won’t see this from us other than via presell.

Excellent wines. Informative back labels. So much potential. Plenty of others feel the same way that we do about Picamelot, so keep in mind that overall quantities are limited here (certainly not the norm for a sparkling house, especially one producing Cremant de Bourgogne).
Up next is a few days in the Rhone with our good friend Harry Bosmans.