Selections for June 2017

A worthy white wine gets to graduate

2016 REGUEIRO – Vinho Minho Regional, Portugal

Last year we put the 2015 version of Regueiro on our shelf, just to see what would happen.  Soon we were putting it back on the shelf.  Then, once again, we had to re-stock.  The test vintage proved Regueiro’s popularity, and the fresh, just-arrived 2016 gets a promotion to your White Wine Club!

Coming from the extreme north of Portugal, Regueiro is designated as “Vinho Minho Regional,” saving it from the stigmatizing de-valuation of “Vinho Verde.”  Nothing against that inexpensive, fruity, and slightly bubbly Portuguese beach wine, but we’ve got something more significant happening here.

Half of this is Traxadura (Treixadura), no stranger to those bargain Vinho Verde blends and great for lemony aromatics and a gentle fullness on the palate.  The other half is Alvarinho, more popularly known as Albariño right over the border.  This grape is saved for the better, more expensive blends of the area.  It contributes more limey, briney length; deceptive in its quiet narrowness, but more expressive when it warms up a little as it has beside my keyboard. 

Do consider that when appreciating the goodness of this wine.  Served freezing cold, Regueiro does what many other just-off-the-boat, no-oak European whites do.  They provide the service of refreshment; nothing more, nothing less.  Warmed up just a little, truly great wines have more to say.  Regueiro is rewarding my patience with a resplendent array of flowers, golden apples, white pepper, and just-rained-on foliage in the nose.  The mouth, while still electrically acidic, now provides a more glyceral texture. 

I’d love some raw oysters right about now!!                

Once a year you get PINK!

2016 VIGNOBLES LASSAGNE ‘Les Caprices d’Anaïs’ –Bordeaux Rosé, France

If you’re among the few remaining dry pink doubters we apologize for this NEARLY white submission, something we tend to do once a year.  We don’t have a dry rosé club, but figure you fans of refreshment would be the most amenable to the aberration. 

We carried ‘Caprices’ last year but aren’t surprised if frequenters of our pink wine display don’t recognize this label.  The 2015 bottle was more whimsically designed.  I kind of miss the old look - shouldn’t everything about this wine type connote evasive capriciousness? 

Here is a departure from the Provence Rosé type we more often sell and drink.  It comes not from the Mediterranean but from Atlantic-influenced Bordeaux, far better known for its sturdy reds.  Considering its use of Bordeaux’s main grapes - 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon – one might expect a darker, weightier rosé experience and that’s what you’d have gotten ten years ago.  - But this place’s winemakers have observed the market’s preference and learned to lighten up.  The delicate color says so, then the sniff of tangerines, sage, ivory, and white pepper confirms it.  The palate is in happy agreement; lush and juicy with white nectarines and barely-ripe strawberries.  While quite soft like satin on the middle of the tongue, the wine ends with a refreshing nip encouraging another taste - and the application of a salade niçoise.

Salade Niçoise – for me and 3 other rosé-loving friends:

Chill a large platter in your freezer while preparing the ingredients. 

Crisp leaves of butter lettuce (and Romaine?) by soaking them for five minutes in lukewarm water then draining (got a salad spinner?) and chilling.

Boil small yellow potatoes until soft.  Chill.

Parboil haricot vert (little string beans).  Chill.

Hard boil and peel some eggs.  Chill.

Chop some tomatoes and olives.  Chill.

Open some quality tuna (we sell it, from Spain & Portugal!).  Chill.

Arrange a big bed of the lettuce on the chilled platter.  Apply quality extra virgin olive oil and arrange all the ingredients atop, either in individual mounds or all mixed up.  Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. 

Take it outside with a bottle of cold rosé.  CHILL!!!    

This wine does not come to California except via The Wine Steward.  I enjoyed and ordered it on my trip to France in January.  We’re lucky to access this 400-case production charmer!

Selections for May 2017

Like wood-fired pizza?

2015 ‘SAIMUUN’ VERMENTINO – Toscana, Italy

Last night I visited Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur with my San Anselmo-inhabiting foodie daughter.  Mary is the one teaching me breadmaking, who does that and many other baked creations professionally at Outerlands Restaurant in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset ‘hood.  We were visiting Picco for her birthday dinner - her pick – and on the very short wines-by-the-glass list was a “pick” of my own:  This wine, destined for your club two days thence.

Why would a little Marin County pizzeria, however thoughtful, feature this particular wine from halfway across the world?  Because nearby McEvoy Ranch is its conduit to the U.S.   This Marin County winery (there are but few) produces beautiful Pinot Noir and olive oil and enjoys the input of an Italian consulting winemaker.  That connection has McEvoy importing Vermentino from Italy!

Vermentino has become a fave for many of you.  TWS has shown examples from several different producers, all to good effect.  The grape happens on the island of Sardinia and – in this case – western Tuscany.  From this place on the mainland it generates a bit more body.  While remaining clean and fresh, this Tuscan type delivers a richness one finds in muskmelons.  Grilled fish, white-sauced pastas, and good pizza are the fare to pair!    

Have you heard of this place?

2015 DOMAINES ANDRÉ AUBERT ‘Le Devoy’ – Grignan-les-Adhemar, Rhone Valley, France

While the Southern Rhone is more known for its Grenache-based reds there is also a good amount of dry rosé and white wine produced here.  Cotes du Rhone Blanc, Lirac Blanc, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc and others provide a richer though rarely-oaked experience.  A far more rare visitor to our shores is Grignan-les-Adhemar.  This Rhone satellite is on the northern frontier of the southern part.  It used to be called “Coteaux de Tricastin” but a nuclear power plant using the same name had a nasty little accident so the wine region made a marketing-induced name adjustment.  Too bad they didn’t choose a more pronounceable new name!

This is a blend of all the prominent white Rhone varieties:  Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette, and Bourboulenc.  I smell canned pears and fresh green herbs such as oregano.  I taste peaches and, perhaps, ruit cocktail.  I also feel the nice “resistance” or bitterness of vitamin or aspirin; a kind of “calcium” effect.  This wine indulges with its sunny Provencal fruit and mildly “upsets” the tongue, encouraging a food pairing such as grilled halibut with mango salsa.  Pork chops with an occasional drip of aged balsamic might also do the trick.

Drink your Rhone whites young.  They won’t thank you for long-term cellaring.  At their best, they indulge with fresh stone fruits and a citric tinge and – most significantly – more body than, say, a Pinot Grigio or Albariño.  We hope this excellent example inspires some great meals!

Selections for April 2017

You’ve never had this.

2015 CHATEAU LOUSTALET – Buzet, Somewhere in France

Nope:  You have never had a Buzet.  If YOURS TRULY hadn’t experienced it until last January’s brief visit to this unknown region, then you certainly wouldn’t have either.  It would not be possible, fathomable, or acceptable to this intrepid wine traveller.  I’d be humiliated to hear otherwise.    

(Well, I suppose it’s POSSIBLE, but not very probable!!)

As the map above describes, Buzet is southeast of Bordeaux.  I did in fact briefly visit the area on the way from Bordeaux to Gascony one day last January.  We visited one winery, tasted one wine, and that’s all it took:  I immediately spoke for this for your club. 

Buzet whites use the Bordeaux grapes varieties, and this one is representative with 65% Semillon, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, and 10% Muscadelle.  No oak barrels are involved here; after six months of aging in stainless steel tanks the flavors are captured via an early bottling:  No muss, no fuss. 

Here’s one of those whites that seem nearly innocuous at first sip, yet you realize how good it is after your glass is half-gone and find yourself craving more.  Uniquely copper/grey in hue, the scents are pleasant with pears and apples.  The soft and silky textures finish with a vague citrus peel bitterness – just enough to keep the palate engaged.  This wine’s modesty reminds me of the Loire Valley’s Muscadet wines, though with a less acidic effect.  Its best foodmate is certainly delicate fish and shellfish treatments and – if you’re as into them as I am – raw oysters!

I hope you’re appreciating this modest wine as I do – not just because it’s a new adventure but because its darn good juice to boot!           

Unusual and Delicious – Part II

2016 LIBRANDI ‘Critone’ – Val de Neto, Italy

Have you ever heard of unlikely bedfellows Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc getting together in the same wine?  There is very little precedent.  Having such individual attitudes of their own, why try to amplify by blending?  You’re more bound to negate than improve!

Well, it works beautifully in THIS 90% Chardonnay / 10% Sauvignon Blanc from Calabria, Italy.  We are visiting the “toe” of the boot for a white which several winebar visitors just outside this office are enjoying right now.  Eight months ago it was represented by grape clusters hanging on vines very near the seashore, some right at sea level.  A temperature-controlled fermentation and 4 months of stainless steel aging later, it was bottled and shipped to us:  Fresh, friendly, and vibrantly evocative of its briny source.

A pleasant combination of fresh herbs and stone fruit happens in the nose.  The mouth is lush, yet vibrant.  Here is yet another great seafood wine, with “oily” fish such as fresh sardines from the grill being the ideal.

Selections for March 2017

The Best Grape in the World, Simply Put!

2015 SAUVION – Vouvray, Loire Valley, France

There’s a certain set of bright, un0aked whites which have so much character you might not mind their subtle asset of residual sugar.  Nearly-dry Riesling from Germany or Alsace distracts you with its vibrant acidity.  Gewurztraminer has that crazy nose and – along with that – an oily texture that gets you hungry for Choucroute.  Now, here comes a barely-sweet 100% Chenin Blanc from Vouvray.  How shall we cope?

Vouvray is the name of Chenin’s most famous growing place.  Vouvray can happen as bone-dry bubbly.  It can happen as bone-dry still wine, too.  A super-sweet dessert version takes place when the vintage is right, and I’d prefer that over more famous Sauternes any day of the week. 

Somewhere in between THIS is happening.  This wine does show a modicum of sweetness but there’s plenty of character to validate.  Support the concept with some good chevre (goat cheese) and green apple slices on the side.  How about adding toasted walnuts and hazelnuts to the plate, with careless drizzles of honey here and there?  Alternatively, grill some halibut and concoct some kind of mango chutney or purée to accompany that fleshy, smoke-affected fish.  I promise you:  This wine will work.

Chenin Blanc has the unusual, magical quality of pleasing at several levels of wine-rendering.  Honey, chalk, marshmallow dust, freshly rained-on foliage, and baking spices happen irresistibly.  While I’m often saying this to provoke a lively discussion, I often actually mean what I say when proclaiming:

 “Chenin Blanc is the BEST grape in the world.”

Bordeaux also comes in BLANC

2015 ESPRIT de SAINT-SULPICE SAUVIGNON – Bordeaux Blanc, France

Over the past weekend our WineBar menu featured a flight of mostly-French Sauvignon Blanc.  Two Sancerres and one Pouilly-Fume represented that grape from the Loire Valley.  THIS white from more southerly Bordeaux kicked off the experience.  The Loire versions were brighter with lime and flinty urgency, but from Bordeaux we anticipate a different effect, and that’s what makes Sauvignon Blanc one of the greatest of grapes:  It expresses a different “voice” based on where it’s grown.

One Bordeaux difference:  The local culture’s tradition of adding another grape.  Semillon is the usual partner, of which this ‘Sauvignon’ includes 20%.  Sauvignon Blanc on its own gives green-ish, herbal racy-ness.  Semillon’s role is to round the textures and contribute flavors of (perhaps) pear, fig, and lanolin. 

Yet another addition to Bordeaux Blanc is often employed:  The barrel.  When you buy $20+ examples you might encounter the extra dimension of vanilla richness provided by French oak.  Many of these can cost far more, as rendered by the most famous red-producing chateaux, and are interesting aging wines.  Grown southeast of the city of Bordeaux in the Entre-Deux-Mers area, this Saint-Sulpice saves us some money by omitting the expensive wooden aging container.  Stainless steel tanks were used instead. 

Even without the barrel, there is more than the usual richness of fruit and texture happening here.  What ingredient confers this more palate-pleasing effect?  Vintage 2015.  I will declare for not the last time:  All 2015 European wines, white and red, with be delicious.  Such a blanket summary isn’t usually possible - one region might shine while another falls short depending on local weather – but I haven’t yet encountered an exception. 

Here is brilliant raw oyster wine (as depicted above).  The fragrance combines the pungency of grapefruit peel with mango tropicality.  The mouth is fresh and lively, yet nicely cushioned with silky white fruit flavors.  Without your having tasted this wine’s 2014 counterpart as I have, it might be harder to appreciate how good you’ve got it here.  Take it from me:  This is damn good Bordeaux Blanc!      

Selections for February 2017

New Year, New Experiences!

2014 DAMA de TORO MALVASIA – Toro, Spain

In the spirit of newness of year and refreshment of outlook, let’s bring you something you’ve probably never had.  Indeed, YOURS TRULY had never had a white wine from Toro, Spain until this was shown to us in early December.

Toro is an hour-and-a-half’s drive northwest from Madrid.  Tourists don’t often frequent the place, meaning YOU should.  Redolent of Castilian Spain’s quintessential rugged spirit, rich with Reconquista history, scenically-arresting . . . Toro is a great stop for one or two nights on your personal Spanish road trip.  This is red wine country, with the starring grape being Tempranillo.  Toro’s own interpretation ofSpain’s “noble” red grape is a powerful message of dark and alcoholic impact:  “Strong like bull.” 

. . . So it’s wonderfully ironic to see a fragrant and delicate alternative from here!  Give this un0aked white a good chilling and place it next to a salad or white fish dish (bacalhao from neighboring Portugal would be a great choice, too).  Sniff it to discover floral and citrus qualities and an undercurrent of fresh cream.  Sip it to feel a silky, broad texture accompanied by peach blossoms and ultra-ripe apricots. 

Wines such as this develop and fail quickly, so get to this bottle sooner than later.  Six months ago you’d have found more “perkiness” in the nose and flavors of Dama de Toro, but I’m liking the “Phase II” qualities happening now, represented by the vague sense of resin. 

Happy New Year and here’s to things we’ve never seen or tasted before!            

Living on the edge

2012 JOSEPH FAIVELEY – Macon-Villages, Burgundy, France

This wine club submission somewhat follows the idea of the other January wine with its “Phase II” development.  You would normally see something like this as a 2014 – maybe even 2015 – on our shelves. 

– But bringing you only the newest and freshest whites omits your exposure to what happens with the application of a little time.  Certainly, not all the whites we show you can develop white Burgundy is often up to the task.  This Faiveley certainly is.  Like the Malvasia described above, this is not a bottle to sit on.  “Phase III” would be regrettable, so savor this right away!

Here is 100% Chardonnay from Burgundy, France’s southernmost white wine region, the Macon.  Within Macon you can obtain “Macon-Villages” such as this and buy up for Saint-Veran and Pouilly-Fuisse, the really good stuff.  Limestone with varying amounts of clay is the prevailing soil type, accounting for the distinctive flavors and textures of the local wines.  Sunshine also has a role:  As Burgundy’s warmest place Macon confers more richness of fruit to its product. 

If you’d tried this 2012 two years ago, apples and citrus would have been in control of the perfume and flavor.  With the passage of time though, a deeper lemon custard and mysterious smokiness has taken over.  The palate feel remains fresh with mineral nerve, so you’re getting this wonderfully complex dance of intrigue and zing in your mouth.  . . . And so the call goes out for Camembert, or some related soft and funkily-flavored cheese, warmed to room temperature. 

Selections for January 2017

New Year, New Experiences!

2014 DAMA de TORO MALVASIA – Toro, Spain

In the spirit of newness of year and refreshment of outlook, let’s bring you something you’ve probably never had.  Indeed, YOURS TRULY had never had a white wine from Toro, Spain until this was shown to us in early December.

Toro is an hour-and-a-half’s drive northwest from Madrid.  Tourists don’t often frequent the place, meaning YOU should.  Redolent of Castilian Spain’s quintessential rugged spirit, rich with Reconquista history, scenically-arresting . . . Toro is a great stop for one or two nights on your personal Spanish road trip.  This is red wine country, with the starring grape being Tempranillo.  Toro’s own interpretation ofSpain’s “noble” red grape is a powerful message of dark and alcoholic impact:  “Strong like bull.” 

. . . So it’s wonderfully ironic to see a fragrant and delicate alternative from here!  Give this un0aked white a good chilling and place it next to a salad or white fish dish (bacalhao from neighboring Portugal would be a great choice, too).  Sniff it to discover floral and citrus qualities and an undercurrent of fresh cream.  Sip it to feel a silky, broad texture accompanied by peach blossoms and ultra-ripe apricots. 

Wines such as this develop and fail quickly, so get to this bottle sooner than later.  Six months ago you’d have found more “perkiness” in the nose and flavors of Dama de Toro, but I’m liking the “Phase II” qualities happening now, represented by the vague sense of resin. 

Happy New Year and here’s to things we’ve never seen or tasted before!            

Living on the edge

2012 JOSEPH FAIVELEY – Macon-Villages, Burgundy, France

This wine club submission somewhat follows the idea of the other January wine with its “Phase II” development.  You would normally see something like this as a 2014 – maybe even 2015 – on our shelves. 

– But bringing you only the newest and freshest whites omits your exposure to what happens with the application of a little time.  Certainly, not all the whites we show you can develop white Burgundy is often up to the task.  This Faiveley certainly is.  Like the Malvasia described above, this is not a bottle to sit on.  “Phase III” would be regrettable, so savor this right away!

Here is 100% Chardonnay from Burgundy, France’s southernmost white wine region, the Macon.  Within Macon you can obtain “Macon-Villages” such as this and buy up for Saint-Veran and Pouilly-Fuisse, the really good stuff.  Limestone with varying amounts of clay is the prevailing soil type, accounting for the distinctive flavors and textures of the local wines.  Sunshine also has a role:  As Burgundy’s warmest place Macon confers more richness of fruit to its product. 

If you’d tried this 2012 two years ago, apples and citrus would have been in control of the perfume and flavor.  With the passage of time though, a deeper lemon custard and mysterious smokiness has taken over.  The palate feel remains fresh with mineral nerve, so you’re getting this wonderfully complex dance of intrigue and zing in your mouth.  . . . And so the call goes out for Camembert, or some related soft and funkily-flavored cheese, warmed to room temperature. 

Selections for December 2016

A tangy sucker

2015 JUBILEE PINOT BLANC – Alto Adige DOC, Italy

From a picturesque northern Italian wine region with terrific terroir comes an enervating white:  It smells and tastes wonderfully, aggravatingly tangy.  White pepper, just-ripening apricots, bergamot, chalk and white peach skins are all on the attack.  Your palate is happily upset, and you are reaching for food.

What’s unusually marvelous about this?  “Jubilee” is made from Pinot Blanc, a.k.a. Pinot Bianco, a.k.a. Weissburgunder.  Grow it in most parts of California and you get an easygoing, soft, but otherwise unidentifiable shadow of – say – Chardonnay.  Grow it in most parts of the WORLD for the same less-than-distinctive effect:  Little to say in the nose and just as boring in the mouth.  Alsace sometimes gets it right, but winemakers there are too concerned with their glory grapes Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris to give much attention to workhorse Pinot Blanc.

Certainly, Alto-Adige is the difference.  Alto Adige lies on a subalpine border with Austria. The juxtaposition of high altitude freshness and unusually warm microclimate makes the Alto Adige’s wines some of Italy’s most compelling.  Another difference is Small Vineyards, the importer of this wine personified by TWS friend Tom Kelly.  Tom and I met for lunch in Berkeley several months ago to taste several pre-arrivals, and with the antipasti in play it was only a matter of a few sipping seconds before I committed to this for your club.  Cold cuts, seasonal squash dishes, sushi . . . you name it – it will all work with this energetic, food-craving white!

Zing!

2015 CEDRUS le BLANC – Cotes de Gascogne, France

This comes from south of Bordeaux; Gascony, the land of the Three Musketeers, Foie Gras, and Armagnac.  Producers of the latter only more recently added fine winemaking to their repertoire as a grape glut solution.  Lucky us:  Gascony now produces the most enlivening white wine value in France!

Here is a combination of two grapes which are hardly household names.  60% is devoted to Colombard, called “French Colombard” when cultivated here in California.  During the 1990’s I frequently roamed a head-pruned mixed-white-variety vineyard here in Livermore.  It was planted in the 1920’s to now-less-fashionable Grey Riesling, Palomino, and French Colombard, among other oddities.  I remember tasting grapes from the various vines one September just before harvest:  The Palomino (used in Spain for Sherry) and Grey Riesling were sweet but totally devoid of acidity, that necessary component of “zing” which keeps a white wine refreshing.  Then I tasted the fully ripe Colombard:  Lemon Drops!  This old vineyard had been planted with the plan of blending all of these components, and French Colombard’s role was – obviously to my burning tongue - acid provision.

The remaining 40% of Cedrus?  Ugni Blanc.  Want a prettier synonym?  How about “Trebbiano,” Italy’s name for it?  Trebbiano’s role here is to soothe nervous Colombard’s anxieties and add a little easygoing softness to the palate.  White pepper, daisies, grapefruit . . . the message of this vibrant wine is precise, direct, and un-fussed.  You are meant to eat it with soft cheeses and – certainly – fish!

Selections for November 2016

Rarely seen in these parts

2014 COMMANDERIE de la BARGEMONE BLANC – Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France

I’d like you to drink this with Thanksgiving dinner if possible, and if it must wait for a later feast please don’t let it wait too long:  This 2014 is in its prime but won’t linger much longer in the range of non-oxidative drinkability.  Besides, its clean and soft pear fruit, fig leaf scents, and gentle lanolin texture will work very well with the bird!

When I call this “rare for these parts” I’m referring to the color of the wine.  Every year we taste and buy several dry rosés from Aix en Provence.  They may be my favorite of the pink genre, and Commanderie de la Bargemone (founded by the Knights Templar in the 13th Century) makes one of the best.  WHITE wine certainly happens here, too, but it doesn’t get out much.  In fact, The Wine Steward hasn’t shown you an Aix Blanc until now.  It’s a market issue:  The pink stuffe crowds out this lesser-known version.

Three grapes participate in this easygoing blend.  The first (50%) is Rolle, known elsewhere (especially Italy) as Vermentino.  It is known for contributing melon flavors and textures, and – sometimes – a sense of brine.  The next contributor (30%) is Sauvignon Blanc, and we expect to see herbal and grassy aspects from that one.  Next up:  10% Ugni Blanc, perhaps slightly better known as Trebbiano.  I might anticipate a dry straw/hay mellowness from Ugni.  Finally, there’s a 10% addition from Grenache Blanc, which gives citrus, white peach, and/or resin as the wine ages.

We hope you enjoy this rare club submission – as soon as possible! 

Heard of it?

2015 KIM CRAWFORD ‘Unoaked’ CHARDONNAY – East Coast, New Zealand

Kim Crawford (that’s a guy, by the way) has more visibility in the grocery stores than nearly any other Sauvignon Blanc; that green-label is so availably ubiquitous there’s no reason for TWS to show it to you. 

Our reasons for showing you an alternative product from a very big producer are several.  First, you don’t see this one as often.  Second, with your wine club discount we are beating virtually every price offered by any other purveyor in the country.  So you’re getting value.  Third, and most importantly, this is delicious juice.

As you know, Chardonnay varies wildly in style.  Rombauer specializes in the ultra-buttery, oaky, and slightly sweet concoction.  180 degrees away from that:  France’s Chablis; cool-climate fruit grown in prehistoric seabed and often forsaking the oak treatment.  In between are renditions from all over the world verging toward one extreme or the other, amplifying flavors with treatments such as barrel fermentation or batonnage and/or extended lees contact.  We love tweaking this grape!

So there are a lot of valid types of Chardonnay, depending on your palate, your paycheck, your mood, your food, and your surrounding friends.  This Kim Crawford is determined to show you unfettered fruit.  The grape grew riper than – say – pristine Chablis, but barrels were omitted in its making.  This is all about citrus, barely-ripe pineapple, and a touch of fresh green herbs.  The textures are generously lush yet clean.

We are bringing you a Chardonnay of this type right now because of its accommodation of the coming Thanksgiving feast.  While a more buttery / oaky type can easily trounce the more delicate turkey flavors, this more streamlined Kim Crawford will add refreshment to a rather ponderous food menu.

And don’t forget:  Our price kicks it!!

Happy Thanksgiving!      

Selections for October 2016

A perfect example, considering the price

2014 CHATEAU D’AIGUEVILLE – Cotes du Rhone Blanc, France

Let’s start this little chat about a wine type I love with an assertion:  Not all white wines need be zingy.

I’d get agreement here from the casual consumer of oaky-buttery (anti-zingy) Rombauer-style Chardonnays, but many of you have so overdosed on such weightier whites that your preferences admit only the total opposite style.  Now you like ‘em lean ‘n mean; vibrant, refreshing, lively, virtually electrical with acidic nerve, without an allowance for the occasional fuller-bodied white, regardless of quality.

In our combined decades of wine observation our staff has observed this preference shift more than once.  Our recommendation:  Get off the pendulum.  Certain kinds of truly great wines are inherently fuller-bodied, and others are more zippy by design.  Appreciate the fact that a great Sauvignon Blanc is more often zingy in framework and, conversely, that a Southern Rhone white is meant to convey a bit more body.

- But the conveyance should be correct; elegant and not-overdone.  Here is that wine, per my read, and per its smart little price.  The sun shines a little brighter and hotter in the Southern Rhone, and the varieties grown there thereby develop a more mellow softness.  The trick is to render them at cool fermentation temperatures and with a minimum of oxidation.  Succeeding with that gets you a soft, round white with “quiet” and clean richness.  I hope that’s happening in your mouth right now, with subtle flavors of anise, oranges, apple pastry, and fresh herbes.  Per this wine buyer’s experience, this kind of thing doesn’t happen for us every day, especially at this nominal rate.  I’m pretty picky about the white Rhones we carry, meaning sometimes we don’t even have ONE on the shelf.  This, folks, is a winner per its style. 

Chateau d’Aigueville’s vineyards are just north of the famous appellation of Chateauneuf du Pape and share much of its rocky terrain.  The varieties at play are roughly equal parts of Clairette, Viognier, and Roussanne.  White meats such as turkey or chicken would do nicely as a partner, especially when cold and in sandwich form with good fresh tomatoes and avocados!

“Grenache comes in Blanc?” A great - albeit rare - example

2015 PRIEST RANCH GRENACHE BLANC – Estate Grown, Napa Valley

Grenache – the red grape – is thought to have originated in Spain.  Like Pinot Noir it is susceptible to mutation and now there are many clones thereof.  Its mutation to the white version Grenache Blanc is believed to have occurred in Terra Alta, Spain (the proud locals are especially sure of this).  Nowadays you see it from there, the South of France (it’s an important component in Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc), and various parts of California.  From the Golden State we’re sourcing most Grenache Blanc from Santa Barbara County and more recently the Sierra Foothills.  While it’s growing in popularity, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio far exceed its production here.  Grenache Blanc is a niche wine, sought out most often by American drinkers who first experienced the varietal from the European sources.

THIS Grenache Blanc from Priest Ranch is apparently the only Napa Valley example.  It is also the best I’ve tried this year.  Part of our challenge with identifying more good examples is how fast it oxidizes, i.e., ages away from fresh fruit (and from our interest).  If we were to show you the 2014 version of this very wine your experience would be much different.  The white stone fruit and citrus peel nerve would be yielding to a more resinous, “piney” quality which I consider less attractive.  I’m too often being shown and rejecting over-the-hill Grenache Blanc because of slow-moving inventories.  Producers and their salespeople should be quick to get their Grenache Blanc to market and sold with a mandate to the customer, “Don’t lose Grenache Blanc in your cellar.  Stick it in the fridge and drink it tonight!” 

Besides my winebuyer’s directive, as a some-time winemaker and longtime lover of this grape I’ve developed strong feelings for how it should be made.  Remembering its susceptibility to aging, the use of porous oak barrels should be limited or omitted from the program.  Grenache Blanc’s flavors are too delicate to accommodate the oak-derived vanilla enhancement anyway.  That said, when you ferment and store squeaky-clean Grenache Blanc juice in naught but stainless steel tanks it’s hard to evoke very much character.  Solution:  Lees.  Ferment clean Grenache Blancjuice at a low, fruit-preserving temperature in stainless steel, rack off the new wine from the “gross” lees (the first sludge to settle to the bottom) to a new tank.  Let the “fine” lees (the more suspended stuff) settle to the bottom, then re-introduce it to the wine every couple of weeks via batonnage, that is, stir it around.  Repeated contact with these fine lees adds little flavor but contributes a textural aspect of rough velvet or even anaspirin-like bitterness which in controlled amounts excites the palate. 

That preferred method was applied to this fine example from Priest Ranch (the second label for Somerston Winery).  Quiet complexity is the result:  Bosc pears, white peaches, lemon zest, and a chalky feel happen with subtle richness.  I highly recommend you invest in halibut as an appropriate food mate.  By the way, due to rarity most GOOD Grenache Blancs cost more than this!

Selections for September 2016

A grape that’s catchin’ on around here

2015 ANTONIO SANGUINETTI VERMENTINO – Tuscany, Italy

We’re carrying more and more Vermentinos (“Vermentini”?) lately, seeing how they resonate with the local palate.  I.e.: You get it.  When oaky / buttery Chardonnay is too ponderous for the weather or the meal at hand, Vermentino is a very useful alternative.  A little more ample than most Pinot Grigios and usually more complex, we have yet to meet a naysayer to whom we’ve promoted it.

The grape happens especially on the island of Sardegna and on the Italian mainland in Tuscany.  You’ll also find it in Provence where it goes by the name “Rolle”.  The Sardinian examples can be more nervy with a sea air brineyness, wonderfully agitating the palate and inducing an urgent need for little oily fishies, quickly fried and swiftly delivered to table.  By contrast, Tuscan Vermentino is a little more easygoing with stone fruit and melon flavors, delivered with a rounder mouthfeel. 

Before you stands a bottle which somewhat contradicts what I just said about Tuscan Vermentino.  This Sanguinetti is a bit more racy than most, and I imagine the 5% Sauvignon Blanc contribution is why.  Freshly cut straw and lime juice excite the nose.  A green-ish, grippy thing happens in the mouth.  The Wine Steward now carries a line of Portuguese fish products, packaged in tins.  THIS wine should help get you acquainted with THOSE deliciously fishy thingies.  We encourage your exploration of both.

Did you know there was such a thing?

2015 CARLOS SERRES BLANCO – Rioja, Spain

We go ga-ga for RED Rioja at all the price points, young and old, and all impositions of house styles.  Showing you white Rioja happens only occasionally, however.  Other parts of Spain deliver more intriguing blancos.  Certainly you’ve hung around us long enough to become familiar with Albariño and Verdejo and others besides.  – White Rioja is somewhere down the “Others Besides” list normally, as we’ve presented it.  The main issue is its potential drabness.  The main white grape of the realm, Viura (known as “Macabeo” elsewhere), furnishes industrial white wine-ness; soft, plush, and fairly non-descript.  Somewhat bored and un-intrigued, we lovers of “dynamic” head elsewhere.

What’s different this time? 

First:  White Rioja that’s not sixteen bucks but quite a bit less. 

Second:  This got here sooner than most, so the just-bottled freshness is still going happenin’.  Viura develops (dies) pretty quickly, but we’ve got a head start on the oxidation.

Third:  This sees a 15% addition of a grape only recently recognized, Tempranillo Blanco;  a mutation of the familiar red grape.  That’s good for the “geek factor” but there could be more than just novelty here:  Might the mutation of Rioja’s sturdy red variety give a little more backbone to a normally-flaccid wine experience?  Is it only my imagination that this inexpensive white seems to deliver some actual tannins, begging – once again – for our recently acquired canned fish products?

It’s for you to decide whether this is really good or very special. 

Sorry:  those are your only two choices! 

Selections for August 2016

I love unlikelihoods

2013 ADELAIDA CHARDONNAY – HMR Vineyard, Paso Robles

This wine’s suggested retail price is $40.  Because we are cleaning out Adelaida’s remaining inventory of the 2013 vintage we’re able to show you something special for far less.  Rejoice and be glad, and get back here for more!

Chardonnay represents the essence of wine ubiquity:  It is EVERYWHERE.  - Well, not quite everywhere.  You don’t find it in warmer regions such as Paso Robles unless it happens in the distinctive soil with which Adelaida is blessed.  One of California’s original wine gurus Andre Tchelistcheff declared, “Soil trumps climate.”  That is to say, if the vineyard’s dirt is spectacular and the weather is less than ideal quality can still happen.  Limestone filled with fossilized sea life is the mineral base of Adelaida’s HMR vineyard.  Even if the climate isn’t very Burgundian, the dirt sure is!

A calming fragrance of crème fraiche (pre-butter dairy smells), white peach, and vague hints of basil reassure us:  This is not from Lodi!  The palate is broad yet clean.  Generosity of viscosity is checked by citric acidity.  From a wine land historically known for flaccid flooziness, here is generosity accompanied by structural importance.

Chardonnay messes with our collective wine head.  What’s my premise when a new one is forced upon me?  My own use or non-use of the varietal?  Is this meant to indulge or deprive?  Am I to seek out “place” in the wine?  Like someone who’s heard Beethoven’s 5th too many times, can I really “hear” Chardonnay anymore? 

I don’t have the answers, only the questions . . . and a darn good Chardonnay.

A Simple Message, Refreshingly Imparted

2015 HB – Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc, France

We think this wine is so broadly appealing we bought an entire palate of the stuff.  Its message may be simple but it’s a useful one, especially on hot summer afternoons:  “Say Ahhhhhh!”

We take you to the south of France where a white wine region sits alongside a saltwater lake, the Thau Lagoon, which itself lies beside the Mediterranean.  In this temperate, breezy place you find myriad shellfish farms, and multitudes of herons and flamingos, and a grape called ‘Picpoul’. 

Implying ‘lip stinger’ in the old Occitan tongue, Picpoul’s brisk acidity is its main, refreshing attribute.  In fact, hot weathered Paso Robles has been utilizing it in its white blends; a little ‘lip stinger’ is just the thing for Marsanne – Roussanne – Grenache Blanc compilations which might otherwise seem overweight.  Picpoul de Pinet is a well-recognized white in France, and its classic bottle shape furthers its marketability.  - But it’s what’s inside that counts.   This refreshingly unsophisticated, wonderfully careless southern French classic offers vivid scents of lime peel, wet foliage, and green apple plus tongue-slappin' white nectarine.

Selections for July 2016

One ‘Z’ is not enough

2015 MONTETONDO GARGANEGA FRIZZANTE – Verona, Italy

Perhaps you have tasted Vinho Verde, Portugal’s refreshing white with a bit of zingy CO2 pricklishness.  Maybe you’ve even had Txakoli from Spain’s Basque Country; a tangy, dry drink rendered the same way.  Well, we’re betting you’ve never had zinged-up Garganega from Verona, Italy until now! 

“Frizzante” (with two Z’s to be sure you notice) is Italy’s wine term for “half bubbly.”  Moscato d’Asti plays this way - albeit with a bit of sugar – but in this case you’re getting a bit of fizz with a dry white made from the Garganega grape.  “Garganega”?  Is that another new one for you?  Perhaps you have heard of Soave?  That wine from this northern Italy place got a bad reputation when lesser grape varieties were employed to make enormous tankfuls of the stuff, but GREAT Soave is made entirely of Garganega. 

What you simply NEVER see on the market is this smaller-production cutie, a Garganega rendered with the frizzante effect from the Soave region.  It’s a distinctively delicious offering from Small Vineyards, the importer represented by friend Tom Kelly who recently put on yet another successful Italian wine tasting on our mezzanine. 

Apples and peaches greet the nose along with a more “intellectual” effect of white pepper.  Ample fruit is countered by a brisk brininess on the palate, and sometimes I detect a ghost of tarragon there, too.  The recent arrival of this wine is perfectly timed:  You’ll find it the perfect summer sipper and a nice accompaniment to salads, cold crustaceans, and grilled fish.

A Great (unlikely) Track Record

2015 CASALE MARCHESI – Frascati, Lazio, Italy

Yes:  Again.  - Just a few months ago we gave you the 2014!

Here’s the wine that works nearly every time.  I think we have skipped but one year in the many vintages we’ve carried of Rome’s usually-utilitarian by-the-glass wine.  Even this wine’s importer, Oakland resident Oliver McCrum, acknowledges Frascati’s stigmatic reputation:  “Insipid, dull, why bother.”   - And he’s done something about that by identifying and bringing us an exception.

Here are the rarely-mentioned varieties Malvasia del Lazio, Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia di Candia, Bonvino, and Bellone doing their thing at small producer Casale Marchesi, just south of Rome.  The vines are at least 40 years old, working in ancient volcanic soils.  The wine sees no oak barrels; fermented and kept in stainless steel with attentive temperature control.  Malolactic fermentation – that process effecting a creamy/butter quality to big Chardonnays and such – is strictly prohibited to maintain a fresher message. 

I smell a nice saltiness floating atop the more obvious muskmelon fruit and fresh herbal aspects.  The textures are generous with a melted rock effect.  This fullness sees the relieving rebuttal of snappy tanginess, keeping the mouth awake and hungry.  I’d recommend a vast array of antipasto offerings as a pick-able feast for this vinted treat!

Selections for June 2016

Worth the wait

2015 VOIX de la VIGNE PINOT GRIS – Willamette Valley, Oregon

This was scheduled to land in your April club pack.  I’d tasted it with its finder Robert Morrison and we made the arrangements.  A day before you were supposed to hear of this fresh 2015 Pinot Gris, Robert told us it hadn’t yet made the trip south.  – So we rescheduled, and I’m glad for the delay.  

Lively, unoaked whites such as Oregon Pinot Gris can be pretty nervy in their infancy but develop to a richer state with just another month or two of aging.  “Sweet Tarts” was the prevailing effect on my early impression of baby 2015 Voix de la Vigne (“Voice of the Vine”), but I chose it for the club anticipating the enrichment of a little time.  The rescheduling did this wine a favor:  I’m still sensing the excitement of apricot skin but the perfume now includes a softer pear fruit aspect.  The mouthfeel, once nearly as zingy as Sauvignon Blanc, has calmed and broadened to a more velvet-y place.  Oregon Pinot Gris often employs a virtually undetectable amount of residual sugar, implying a sensation of peachy silkiness on the palate.  That’s happening now.

The Pinot Gris grape is one of several mutations of the unstable red Pinot Noir.  Its most “classic” examples happen in Alsace, France and northern Italy (as Pinot Grigio).  For nearly three decades Oregon has been establishing itself as a newer exponent of the variety.  It seems fitting that two of this wine country’s original claims to fame, Gris and Noir, are both wonderful with one of the area’s most important food products:  Salmon.  That’s your cue?        

A Good Accident

2014 HENDRY ‘HRW’ SCREEN PORCH WHITE – Napa Valley

I’m hazy on the details, since embarrassing details are less often fully divulged, but because of a miscommunication on bottling day much more of this wine was made than intended.  A quantity of three or four hundred cases was the desire.  TWELVE hundred came rolling down the conveyor.  – And that’s still a pretty small production actually, because this is a Hendry product after all.  Everything rendered by this family-owned operation in Napa’s southwest Oak Knoll District is sourced from estate fruit; there’s only so much they can do with that!  

We’ve been following these guys nearly as long as we’ve been a wine shop and have come to recognize Hendry as makers of a more conservative wine style.  Whether Cabernet, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or little blends like this 72% Chardonnay / 28% Pinot Gris, the style emphasis is on restraint, balance, and finesse.  That might sound unexciting to the sipper desiring alternatives descriptors like “bombastic” and “over the top,” but Hendry wines are meant to satisfy more subtly.  Sometimes you don’t fully know one of their offerings until you’ve polished off a whole glass, but you’ll probably be steady enough to want a second one.

The white grape of France’s Burgundy region (Chardonnay) joins forces with a mutation of that region’s red grape Pinot Noir (Pinot Gris) to provide liquid minerality as texture and barely-ripe white nectarines and ivory as flavors; lush and focused. 

And what of the accidental over-bottling?  A wine meant to cost a few bucks more doesn’t!  Stock up!