Here & There Whites Club Notes

"For lovers of the refreshing world of white wine; two each month!" $29.99/month

Current and Past Club Notes

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April 2018

Perfection
2016 BARONE FINI PINOT GRIGIO – Valdadige, Italy

As with another April wine club wine, I’m ascribing “Perfection” to this inexpensive Pinot Grigio. More on that in a moment.

In the meantime I’d like to express my delight – even BEFORE smelling and tasting this wine - upon de-foiling and pulling the cork from this bottle. I was very happy to see the emergence of a “DIAM” cork.

I’m beyond tired of the continuing failure of natural corks. My beef relates not to the possibility of STRUCTURAL failure, but to the insidiously invisible presence of Trichloroanisole (more easily called TCA) which ruins your otherwise perfect wine’s scents and flavors. A cork might appear to be perfect - showing no oxidative leakage and remaining intact while you screw and tug - but still fail you based on the presence of 6-or-so parts per trillion of TCA.

A mere lack of fruit and a bitter finish is the early tell. An advanced level of “corked” is more obviously shown by a musty wet newspaper scent and the complete absence of varietal fruit. Nowadays responsible wineries test the corks they buy hoping to identify and remove any bad ones. Apparently they can’t find them all. Many in the business (persuaded by the natural cork industry?) report a lower incidence of cork taint these days. I smell a rat – sometimes literally. With all the bottles we’re opening or having opened for us I’m discerning no significant improvement. The natural cork still has a higher failure rate than any other industry – airlines, canners of peaches or tuna, roofers . . . – would be allowed.

Alternatives? While I’m a big believer in the easy-to-open, fruit-preserving screwcap’s solution to cork taint, I know some of my customers are either slightly disappointed with or totally turned off by the sight of them. Allowed the time for ceremonty, anyone handy with a corkscrew prefers to use one. It just feels good; that ritual of extraction.

So – Tada! - here comes a taint-free particle cork from the ‘DIAM’ people, saving your waiter’s corkscrews, Ah-So’s, and Screwpulls from the next garage sale. The patented process includes grinding real cork down to a granular form, treating this with supercritical CO2 which removes any sensory deviations including TCA, and forming the desired closure shape (they also make Champagne corks) by binding the material with a food grade agent. DIAM corks are designed with various porosities and densities depending on the wine to which they’ll be applied. This Pinot Grigio uses a ‘DIAM 2’ whereas a more ageworthy wine such as a higher-end Cabernet Sauvignon might see a longer, more dense ‘DIAM 10’ or ‘15’.

I have heard two reports – only two – of a DIAM-enclosed wine showing TCA. That’s one hell of an improvement, and even THOSE two wines may have been harmed before they ever saw their DIAM. Remember the Beaulieu Vineyards disaster, where their entire fine wine barrel room was potentially tainted by the humidification system? TCA can be absorbed by wood of all kinds, as whole French oak casks of certain vintages of George de Latour and Tapestry sadly attested.

So I’m spreading the word about a product which should be encouraged to proliferate. It will preserve quality and eliminate doubt. Think about it: Millions of wine consumers can identify a bad wine when they smell or taste it but might not properly identify the natural, TCA-ed cork as the culprit. That their negative judgement might instead be misdirected toward a winemaker, a winery, or a retailer should have every producer seriously concerned, and seriously considering the alternative DIAM.

So there goes my time, but let’s briefly treat my deeming this Pinot Grigio to be “Perfect”. For its little price it perfectly represents the varietal and its pristine location near the Italian Alps. The scent is perfect for its expression of bright citrus, green apple, white nectarine, and chalk. The flavors and textures are perfect for their delivery of lush yet concise, tongue-pinching fun. This wine knows where to start and where to stop. If it’s not of the glorious stature of Alsace’s Grand Cru Pinot Gris, it’s not supposed to be. Barone Fini is a more cleansing yet characterful bump-up from all those cheap and non-descript bargain bin examples, that’s for sure!

Let’s match the Wine.com price of 11.99, and then improve on it.

Landlocked
2016 VILLA BARBI – Orvieto Classico, Italy

Here is a blend of no fewer than four grape varieties. 50% Grechetto leads the way, complemented by 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Vermentino, and 10% Procanico. The impressive list of ingredients is enhanced by the source. These vines hail from soils which are rich in fossilized seashells, and that, my friends, can only mean good things for your mouth with this wine in it. Dirt so ridden with skeletal reminders of ancient sea life renders very living, vibrant wine. It happens in Chablis, France. It happens in southern Paso Robles, California. It is sought for by thoughtful winegrowers who anticipate its effect.

That seashell-complicated soil is even more important to the success of this wine because in this case we are nowhere near the sea, per Italy’s current confituration. While this long and narrow country is endowed with a disproportianate amount of coastline, Umbria (from which Villa Barbi hails) is Italy’s one LANDLOCKED region. For the levity and energy often conferred by locally-sourced ocean breezes, Orvieto in Umbria must rely on an ancient, fossilized memory of the coast.

It works. This wine smells downright briney. That “bay tang” often transported by an outgoing tide is unmistakably declared. In the mouth there is flirtatious generosity, kept in check by tangy acids which – if my imagination might go unchecked – is derived by those still-present seashells.

Which brings us to the recommended food pairing. This time around we’ll see if you’ve been reading any of this. An idea should come to you, borne upon a prehistoric ocean breeze . . .

March 2017

This month both White Wine Club submissions come from one vendor, perhaps the one we’ve been friends with the longest: Tom Switzer. Tom is a wine zealot, always enthusiastically pointing out goodness where the less-exposed wine drinker might not immediately recognize it. He is to us what WE are to many of you: A coach, an encourager, an admonisher. To Tom: Thank you for all the years of broadening our wine world!

Your first Palomino?
2016 OJO de GALLO PALOMINO FINO – Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz

My wine training began in a vineyard: Head-pruned, dry-farmed, and planted in the 1920’s. This plot now replaced by fancy homes surrounded what was once Livermore Valley Cellars. It was planted entirely to out-of-style white grape varieties and at least half the vines were dead by the time I arrived in 1990. Any survivors hadn’t seen a pruning shear in five years (like rosebushes, grapevines have about 80% of their growth cut back each winter). This place was messy mix of dead wood and wild growth. Yet a little volunteer crop still came from the neglected plants so, to encourage more of the same, I practiced my newly-learned pruning skills on as many of these veterans as I practically could.

In the hours I spent out there I learned to notice the differences between the varieties. The Trousseau Gris (mis-named Grey Riesling), Muscat de Frontignon, Chardonnay (some said this wasn’t actually Chardonnay), and French Colombard each demonstrated different vigors, leaf configurations, and – as fruit appeared – grape shapes, sizes, and particular shades of color.

Among these was another variety, and the most sturdy: Golden Chasselas – another misnomer. This grape once so widely planted across California is more accurately called “Palomino.” American farmers loved it for its resistance to disease, robust growth, and big crops of thick-skinned grapes the birds would ignore. One Palomino vine survived right next to the tasting room and was more attentively pruned each year, but an unnoticed sucker had emerged from its base, crept through the weeds, and up an adjacent 60-foot fir tree. Every autumn we’d spy Palomino clusters hanging like ornaments from its highest branches!

Palomino was great for volume but lousy for quality wine. Its low acidity and propensity for oxidation made for a flaccid drink that yellowed all too quickly . This is why French Colombard with its lemon-drop zing was planted in the same plot; the two would be blended to fix the numbers.

Now-retired Palomino / Golden Chasselas may be barely remembered as California’s plonk-rendering grape, but in the Sherry region of Spain (“Jerez”) it’s the star of the show. Sherry is Spain’s most famous fortified wine, coming in several shades of color and levels of sweetness. There are Manzanilla and Fino, virtually white in color and bracing in bone-dryness. Farther along the spectrum are Amontillado and Oloroso; amber in color and nutty in flavor. At the far end are “Cream” and PX which sport a darker brown and rich sweetness. The grape for nearly all (PX uses the Pedro Ximenez grape) is California’s reject / Spain’s prized Palomino. Its low acidity is actually an attribute in Jerez, where oxidation is often desired, ironically. Sherry’s flavors and shades of color depend on this “weakness”.

Your club wine comes from the land of Sherry / Jerez but goes unfortified. The super-chalky soils and a particular, higher-elevation vineyard be credited with keeping Palomino’s acids intact and providing your palate with a sense of zing. A particular winemaking technique can be thanked for another, more mysterious flavor dimension. Unlike Sherry, this unfortified white was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, but LIKE some Sherries a ‘flor’ was allowed to form on its surface. Flor, from one perspective, is a red flag representing spoilage. Most winemakers would freak out, seeing it appear atop of a vat of crisp white wine. In Jerez, flor is VITAL to character. This film of yeast is invited to partially-filled sherry barrels to provide an anti-oxidative “cap” to the wine, and its presence imparts a component of “tang” reminding me a little of my own sourdough starter, a sense you’d get from green olives. So, while this ‘Ojo de Gallo’ goes unfortified it still gets a minimal Sherry treatment. The nose has a lactic richness conveying apple crate and sourballs. The palate is full yet racy, aggravating the tongue in a compelling way, and inspiring all kinds of recipe ideas.

Understanding we’re giving you something fairly unfamiliar, we’ll “fortify” its cause with a nice review from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, which awarded 90 points to this distinctive wine: “It does have some leesy/yeasty aromas, with character, not a fruit-driven wine. The surprise is how these wines evolve in bottle: after a couple of months they bloom and develop the true character. It's very tasty, dry, with chalky minerality, the landmark of the Pago Macharnudo. 30,000 bottles produced.”

We will also point out that Ojo de Gallo’s rarity in this parts has it usually selling for $20. We bought all that remained of this vintage for your club and can do better:

Think Snowmelt!
2016 DOMAINE PETIT AOUT – Hautes-Alpes, France

Leave it to Charles Neal. This Bay Area-based importer traverses familiar wine regions of France such as Bordeaux and Burgundy and the Rhone Valley, AND explores well beyond these household wine names with a restless drive to bring us something delicious yet unheard-of. Most recently, this incessant search has yielded this wine from the little-known Hautes-Alps.

- Little-known to wine lovers, that is, as cycling enthusiasts will certainly recognize the roads here as frequent Tour de France conveyances. Even as a casual observer of the event I remember hearing this department’s capital city’s name “Gap” as a stage finishing point many times over the years.

The vines providing this blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Clairette happen at over 2,000 feet elevation in the Alpine foothills. The Alps themselves have shed much of their rock to this place over the eons, providing well-draining soils of clay, limestone, and sand. The grapes for this wine were meticulously hand-harvested. A very slow pressing was applied, allowing juice and skins to remain in contact for a full two days. 90% of the juice was fermented in used (neutrally-flavored) barrels, with the remainder seeing a less oxidative treatment in stainless steel tanks. No malolactic fermentation was permitted.

The sum of Roussanne’s tendency for richness, Clairette’s alleviating charm, the mineral soils, and a winemaking regimen simultaneously pushing and restraining: A gorgeous, distinctively ‘alpine’ wine conferring both comfortable textures and zingy refreshment. …And, if my imagination isn’t too warped by this delicious drink, there’s an element of snowmelt in the rinsing finish. Just sayin’!

Steve and I are fearful of a higher-than-normal number of bricks being heaved through our store windows over the coming weeks, based on our February White Wine Club submissions. Actually, there’s never been a brick – and I’m letting Steve off the hook: He had nothing to do with these selections. A Dry Rosé and a Dry Riesling in one month?! It’s on me. Aim your bricks accordingly, and expect more “normal” wines in March!

February 2017

Steve and I are fearful of a higher-than-normal number of bricks being heaved through our store windows over the coming weeks, based on our February White Wine Club submissions.  Actually, there’s never been a brick – and I’m letting Steve off the hook:  He had nothing to do with these selections.  A Dry Rosé and a Dry Riesling in one month?!  It’s on me.  Aim your bricks accordingly, and expect more “normal” wines in March!  

Rich but DRY
2017 PARA MARIA de los TECOLOTES ROSÉ – Santa Barbara County

By now you know we advocate dry pink wines as fervently as our favorite reds and whites. – Perhaps with even MORE vigor, given our mandate to defend deserving underdogs. That said, dry rosé has become pretty mainstream around here by now, so where does that leave The Wine Steward’s role of defending the misunderstood and maligned? Is our task accomplished?

Not yet. Most of the dry pinks you’re generally loving are the more delicate, lower-color South of France examples from Provence. These, made from thin-skinned Grenache and Cinsault and maybe even small proportions of WHITE wine, are delicious foils to the summer heat of our region. – But there’s another breed of dry rosé too often avoided by many of our customers and keeping TWS in the preaching business. Damn thy bias! Embrace all kinds! Lay down thy anti-full-bodied rosé antagonism at the altar, arise, and quaff more open-mindedly!!

This pink has more richness due to its ingredients. 65% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc should have you expecting more body and flavor. Cherry juice and white pepper prevail in the nose along with a sense of the tropics. The palate weight is indulgent and cheek-filling. The flavors are long. How to use this kind of pink? Think less about the pool and more about food, perhaps even a main course. Tuna, pork, sausages, and hamburgers might all agree.

I think you’ll enjoy this, especially when you hear Para Maria de los Tecolotes is a cooperative project involving the vineyard manager for Stolpman Vineyards Ruben Solorzano and Pete Stolpman himself. Along with Stolpman’s crew-honoring ‘La Cuadrilla’ bottling, this is another recognition of hard work, respect for contribution, and tangible gratitude for the folks who do most of the work out there.

Dry, Alive, and Ready for Sushi!
2016 THORN-CLARKE ‘Mount Crawford’ RIESLING – Eden Valley, Australia

This is remarkable wine.

I was about to crack open a fresh bottle for my note writing but remembered there was another I’d “unscrewed” a week ago. Accessing that, the idea that Riesling has terrific staying power was proven once again. This delicate dry white was still showing most of its stuff.

But now I have a new one open on my desk. From my lofty perch with a view of a whole sales floor full of wine I wonder if we’ll ever sell more Riesling. Properly done in the right growing areas such as Germany, Austria, Australia, Monterey, Washington, and Alsace it can be the perfect food white – and an unusually age-able one at that.

This dry Riesling comes from a sub-region of Australia’s Barossa. The Eden Valley is quite a bit higher than the adjoining Barossa Valley, accommodating more varieties than just ubiquitous Shiraz. It’s made by Thorn-Clarke, whose hefty reds from Barossa and Eden achieve impressive critical ratings. Accessing something so alternatively fragrant and lifted from these folks is in and of itself a nice breath of fresh air.

Take a whiff: The fruit is there, tropically. Is it lychee? Mango? Pear? - Yet the perfume defies such a short list of descriptors. White pepper plays. Lime wants in. That oh-so-Riesling element of petrol insists on inclusion. Freshly rained-on foliage is another effect. Now for the sip: The glistening taste is remarkably dry and nearly bitter with citrus peel pith. It aggravates - nicely. It makes one salivate with wonderful angst. It cries for sushi. It wails for fried chicken. It grunts for pork sausage. It screams for ceviche!

This is a great wine club wine - should you choose the challenge to accommodate it with thought and food. Good Riesling deserves it. You, the thoughtful wine drinker, deserve good Riesling!

January 2018

No Brainer
2017 PONGA SAUVIGNON BLANC – Marlborough, New Zealand

If you’re an ambitious wine geek pursuing a sommelier certification you already know the routine, daunting challenge of blind tastings. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish Galician Mencia from Cru Beaujolais or Loire Valley Cabernet Franc . . . but New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? No brainer! An easy one.

If you’re a provider of summertime get togethers, out by the pool on hot afternoons, and considering affordable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for your guests’ parched palates . . . No brainer, right?!

This wine region at the northern end of Kiwi Country’s south island is hardly thirty years old, but in that brief timespan a whole world of wine drinkers had come to recognize its product. While other worthy varietals happen here (try a Marlborough Pinot Gris sometime) Sauvignon Blanc reigns supreme. The variety is admired for producing a prodigious crop while retaining its easily-identified character. A Marlborough winemaker’s greatest concern is retaining cooler fruit temperatures starting right at picking time. This is best achieved at night when machines in the vineyards not only harvest but crush the fruit right on site and this chilly mass is rushed off to the air conditioned winery. Cold fermentation in vast stainless steel tanks and the omission of barrel aging also contribute to a fresher, more fruity wine – and an attractive price tag.

The result of place, grape variety, and technique is a loveable No Brainer wine such as this Ponga: Harvested, rapidly bottled, and quickly shipped overseas within just a few short months. This particular Kiwi SB avoids the scent and flavor many can foster; that effect of capsicum or green asparagus. It defers to lime blossoms, ruby grapefruit, and nectarines all happening with a palate-washing effect, like lapping cold, clear water from a pristine alpine creek. We recommend repeat guzzlings of Ponga with fresh raw oysters, ceviche, and / or fish tacos.

90 Points Wine Spectator – And we’re California’s only carriers!
2016 FAFIDE RESERVA BRANCO – Douro, Portugal

At this time last year I was in Portugal’s Douro Valley with this wine’s importer. The wine region is defined by the Douro River, upstream from the small city of Porto near the Atlantic coast. Should you follow the river further east and cross the border into Spain its name adjusts to “Duero”. Soon you’d pass the vineyards of Toro (check out the excellent example in this month’s World Class Wine Club) and, further up, the better-known Tempranillo source Ribera del Duero.

Back to Portugal! The Douro Valley is famous for its fortified sweet wines: Port, more correctly called “Porto”. This dramatically-sloped, painstakingly-terraced wine land is also becoming known for its dry reds. One successful version lands this month in the Wine Adventurer Club. What’s far less common in our market is a Douro white. Indeed, I never knew of this wine’s existence until visiting its producer. What’s uncommon to us is more usual to the Portuguese locals. Can you imagine living in a wine region without dry red and white wine at hand? Certainly the growers and makers of the world’s most famous dessert wine subsist on that. Imagine the daily Porto hangover!

Here is a blend of Codega de Larinho, Rabigato, and Viosinho (this will not be on the test). The wine was barrel fermented in French and American oak then saw a six-month respite in the same containers. The casks were visited periodically for batonnage where a wand or a propeller was inserted to agitate the wine, re-suspending the expired yeast cells at the bottom. This combination of routines adds richness and enhances flavor. In the nose a lively sense of lemon is joined by a “warmer” effect of crème fraiche. This interplay between citric acidity and lactic richness continues in the mouth; the wine is simultaneously juicy and fairly unctuous, to a White Burgundy degree of body. Note the after effect as well: The wine leaves behind a tangy bitterness akin to the effect of Sweet Tart candy. If this “bigger” white didn’t provide such a nervy finish your palate might quickly tire out. Instead, your enlivened senses anticipate yet another sip.

While Fafide Branco (“white”) is totally suitable for an indulgent cocktail wine treatment, but to have it without good food would be a shame. The lemony acidity happening here works wonders with sea bass and halibut. Bacalhao would be the local preference, of course! 

December 2017 

Your First Time?
2016 PALAMA ‘ARCANGELO’ VERDECA – Salento, Italy
 
Yes, this is your first ever Verdeca – unless you’ve been two-timin’ at other well-stocked wine shops daring to carry such an esoteric wine.  We’ve only carried one other in all our years, and that one never landed in your club.
 
We’re taking you to Salento in Northern Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s boot.  This is one of the country’s warmer spots where wine production normally tilts toward the red varietals; macho wines like Primitivo and Aglianico and Negroamaro.  Verdeca a rare white grape unusually capable of retaining its fruit flavors and refreshing acidity in such a warm place.
 
Ancient Verdeca’s origins are nebulous, but some studies are now linking it to Italy’s Verdicchio and Spain’s Verdejo.  That last connection makes particular sense:  Verdejo is another white grape which succeeds in a pretty hostile environment, on Spain’s sweltering meseta north of Madrid.  – And how clever of us:  The other bottle in this month’s pack is a Spanish Verdejo!
 
This certainly resembles that other variety with its citrus leaf scent and broad yet bracing mouthfeel.  It suggests the warm south with a certain depth of body, yet remains enlivening with lemon zest.  Whether or not you go to the trouble of grilling some prawns to go along, we hope you like your first Verdeca!        
 
A TWS Exclusive
2015 ‘Quintaluna’ de OSSIAN VERDEJO – Rueda, Spain
 
For most of this year we’ve had a hard time achieving fresh Verdejos.  What we’d call “fresh” in 2017 would be Verdejo no older than 2016.  All our reps could find us were over-the-hill 2014’s and 2015’s until just two months ago when some ‘16’s finally surfaced.  The nervy citrus fruit had disappeared from the older wines, with nothing remarkable to replace that youthful sensation of refreshment. 
 
Our usual requirement for this varietal - Brand-newness – must have you asking why we’re giving your club an older version of a grape with a rather dim aging potential?  Answer:  Place AND Producer.   
 
PLACE:  While most of Rueda’s terrain is alluvial based on the Duero River changing course and spreading around its gravel over the eons, the vines at play here come from Southern Rueda’s sand-based soils.  Because the root louse phylloxera cannot survive in sand these vines have lived for over a hundred years.   Their age-limiting but intensely-flavored crop can make a more durable Verdejo.
 
PRODUCER:  The people in charge of this brand also make Pago de Carraovejas Ribera del Duero.  Maybe you’ve never heard of this beautiful red wine we have hiding in the shadows, but nearly every Spanish fine wine drinker certainly has;  Spain keeps no less than 95% of its production for her own consumption.  Carraovejas is the “Opus One” of its region you might say, with the wherewithal to use every expensive piece of equipment and method needed to fully honor deserving deliveries of both red grapes AND these old vine Verdejo clusters.  Their most important treatment here?  Constant lees stirring.  Re-suspending the expired yeast cells into the wine adds texture and intriguing, not-just-fruit qualities  which approach – perhaps – the experience of White Burgundy.  Buck the trend by using a Burgundy (Pinot Noir) glass to see what I mean.  Time has taken down the grapefruit, but quality of place and carefulness of producer have allowed for a more distinguished drink…  This is Verdejo at a different, more thoughtful level.  I’d pair it with some seared scallops if I were you!        
 
November 2017
 
Another Repeat Offender / Pleaser
2016 DOMAINE ALLIMANT-LAUGNER SYLVANER – Alsace, France
 
The white grape Sylvaner is seen mainly from northern Italy, Germany, and here in the gorgeous eastern-France area of Alsace.  For many producers it’s just a workhorse variety, overachieving with a dependable crop but rarely regarded as a “great” winegrape.  – And I love it when that happens.
 
I love it when the German region of Franken realizes there’s already enough Riesling hanging around, and  an alternative is exploited.  The best Sylvaner in the world now comes from Franken, Germany!
 
I love it when Alsace, which calls Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer its “best feet forward,” gives unusual respect to the also-rans like Pinot Blanc and . . . Sylvaner.
 
Yep, I love an underdog getting its day – and so did you twelve months ago.  – That’s when we gave you the 2014 version of this Alsatian Sylvaner.  You got it.  You bought us out.  We ordered more.  You bought us out again . . . What’s up with that?  Didn’t you know Sylvaner is Alsace’s “also-ran” grape?!
 
To the nose: 
Cantaloupe and apples, shyly. 
 
In the mouth:
Lime peel verging on celery (strange as that sounds).  A tart white dart.
 
This kicks it with fish dishes, and I suspect it will also work with turkey, like every other wine currently on our shelves!
 
A Summer Refresher in new clothes
2016 HB - PICPOUL de PINET, Languedoc, France
 
Yep, it’s THAT wine.  Lots of you have already enjoyed HB over the summer season.  Now, try it with turkey!  After all, the main Wine & Bird Idea is to apply less-oaky, higher-acid, more fruit-forward wines to the fare.  Think of all that weighty food . . . Picpoul gives it wings!
 
“Picpoul” is the actual name of the grape, implying “lip stinger” in old Southern French.  “Picpoul de Pinet” is the name of the wine region beside a saltwater lagoon replete with shellfish farms and hordes of flamingos, barely separated from the Mediterranean itself.  To say, then, that HB is made by flamingos is entirely accurate and virtually meaningless.
 
And the wine is, too  . . . accurate and virtually meaningless, that is.  What I’m suggesting is it does precisely what it’s supposed to do, which is next to nothing.  This is a “barely-there,” simple refresher whispering mere rumors of citrus and melon and fresh apples.  It is meant to appear then disappear . . . which is what the whole 56-case pallet of this wine we buy each year is just about to do.     
 
October 2017
 
Au Revoir Provence, for the time being!
2016 SAINT-ROCH ‘Les Vignes’ ROSÉ – Cotes de Provence, France
 
I confess!
 
Earlier this year we stated our admiration for dry pink wine qualifies it for one white wine club intrusion each year.  Well, this is the second 2016 Rosé intrusion - due to our weakness for the type AND an irresistible discount opportunity.  One of our fave rosés, Saint-Roch, is happening at much lower end-of-season wholesale rate for us.  During a recent re-tasting we felt it was still valid, choosing it as our pink wine “swan song” for 2016.  It comes to your club for two reasons:  The nicely lowered price and a teaching moment:  Dry rosé isn’t just for summer sipping any more.
 
In the realm of rosé, the renditions of Provence (Bandol notwithstanding) are known for “crashing” a mere eight or so months after release.  This blend of 50% Cinsault and 50% Grenache will almost certainly lose its best features sooner than later, but right now you’re in for a delicious experience.  The watermelon and cherry fruit is settling down, soon to leave the building.  What’s taking its place is a more savory sense of fresh herb, fennel, and brine.  The fruit of ‘Phase 1’ can still be identified but it’s in the process of passing the baton to secondary elements.  Should you wait too long to drink this, ‘Phase 3’ will reprimand your tardiness with less-attractive, oxidative flavors. 
 
So here’s to living in the moment, as dry rosé’s fragility encourages.  Drink this chilled with quality tuna and your garden’s last tomatoes on a bed of lettuce – or grilled salmon.  – And do it soon! 
 
The first of its kind at TWS!
2016 ADEGA MARIA ALTA ‘Zoe’ – Rias Baixas, Spain
 
Many of you know this region as we do:  Rias Baixas, Spain is famous for its 100% Albariños.  This Albariño-based BLEND is a first-time occurrence in my mouth and – no doubt – in yours.  Here, western Galicia’s best-known white grape is joined by Caiño Blanco, Treixadura, Loureiro, and Godello.  How fun is that?!
 
It’s impossible to know what each of the extra ingredients contributes to ZOE, but there’s certainly more richness and complexity happening here than you’d find in a 100% Albariño.  With no use of barrels impeding the fruit message, the thoughtful taster can identify all sorts of things in the perfume and flavor.  Fruit happens specifically as lemon, nectarine, and pear.  Fresh-cut grass, white pepper, and basil might be found.  A savory briney-ness tells you you’re near the sea and suggests what to do about that:
 
This misty part of Spain provides a bounty of fish and shellfish.  My two visits there have had me eating hake, barnacles, salt cod, octopus, scallops, oysters, mussels, and many other seafood types I can’t recall or properly name.  Wines like ZOE were always on the table, and agreed perfectly with this fare.  I suggest you emulate!
 
September 2017
 
The name change didn’t hurt a bit . . .
2016 GIORGIOZ FRIULANO – Friuli, Italy
 
Here is a benevolent reply to naysayers declining Italian white wine because it’s “too thin and watery.”  Admittedly, GiorgioZ never saw vanilla-conferring oak, nor has this youngster been enriched by Father Time’s application of oxidation.  – But this does seem easier, broader, and slightly richer on the palate than your leaner, less generous Italian zingers, right?
 
This is the Friulano grape as grown in the Friuli region of northeast Italy.  It used to go by the moniker “Tocai Friulano” but Hungary’s wine industry politely (or not?) asked the Northern Italians to shorten the name.  Hungary’s claim-to-fame wine is the decadently sweet “Tokaj” and that wine country feared there would be confusion between their baby and Italy’s dry wine.
 
So, after all that geeky chatter, let’s try this nice white which has never yet come to California.  Give it a good sniff and discover some seductive muskmelon qualities along with baking spices, chopped celery, and white pepper.  Taste AND feel it to appreciate the six months it spent on its lees (helping with the enrichment).  This is soft yet tangy, broad yet narrow, and replete with white fruit flavors. 
 
What to eat with it?  Glad you asked:  Fish and Chips or any tempura-style fare.  Some of the best deep-fried food I’ve eaten happened here!     
 
If it’s Reverdy, it must be Sancerre – OR close to it!
2016 JEAN-MARIE REVERDY et FILS – (Nearly) Sancerre
 
Sancerre is not a grape.  Sancerre is a wine region named for the iconic town within.  I haven’t visited in years, but I’ve been DRINKING Sancerre ever since my memorable visit.
 
We more rarely see red and pink versions of Sancerre, made from Pinot Noir.  What we more often see – and what’s currently quite the thing to drink around here – is the white made from Sauvignon Blanc.  Sancerre “Blanc” can veer from fruity with gooseberry and lime and nectarine, to a greener and more stony side of the scent and flavor spectrum.  What especially determines this (aside a winemaking decision or two) is soil type; Sancerre is blessed with an array of these.  The same chalky material comprising England’s Cliffs of Dover resurfaces here.  There is also sand – and flint – and gravelly alluvials.  Each of these contributes to Sancerre’s prevailing theme of what we call “minerality”.  Apart from the fruit element we should always be reminded of damp concrete or wet rock when savoring good Sancerre.
 
The labels displayed above all feature the same surname, but each comes from a different family winery.  There’s quite the concentration of ‘Reverdys’ in the Sancerre region; I wish I could find my snapshot of a winery directional sign I saw there:  “Turn left,” “Go straight,” “Turn right,” or “Turn around” for one-or-another Domaine Reverdy!  Here is Jean-Michel Reverdy’s Sauvignon Blanc.  The producer does a more popular (and higher-priced) “Sancerre” but the grapes for this more affordable value come outside the boundaries; vineyards more generally appended as “Val de Loire.”  I think it’s a beautiful echo of the more famous wine:  Barely-ripe white peaches and apricots along with a vibrant sense of citrus invade the nose.  Angular yet generous textures enliven the palate.  Certainly, some would guess “Sancerre!” in a blind tasting.  Then come the raised eyebrows when the bottle – and its price – are revealed!
 
This classy Sancerre wannabe is terrific with chilled seafood salads.  For a simpler pairing consider the food product also local to this region, chevre.  In a pinch, try our domestic reply to Loire Valley chevre:  “Bijou” crotins are conveniently located in the display case just downstairs from my glass of Reverdy! 
 
August 2017
 
Recklessness Restrained
2016 VIGNAIOLI MORELLINO SCANSANO ‘Scantianum’ VIOGNIER – Toscana, Italy
 
We’re pretty cautious about showing you Viognier.  Removed from its Northern Rhone birthplace it often reacts with a tantrum of reckless perfume and a tiringly overweight texture courtesy of a flammable alcohol level.  However, when we find one which features all the GOOD parts of the grape we proudly display it.  Here is one of those.
 
This was found by Small Vineyards, the importer represented to us by Tom Kelly.  He would be familiar to many of you based on at least five summertime appearances for all-Italian wine presentations.  Tom’s company calls us “special” by giving us semi-exclusivity with a batch of smaller-production offerings, twice each year.  We taste a dozen or so of these with Tom and submit our orders.  Only what we and a few other privileged shops like ourselves ask for gets loaded onto a container in Italy.  Weeks later, it arrives on our shores and makes a beeline to TWS.
 
Italian Viognier?  Who’s heard of it?  Who wants it?  Upon tasting this particular pre-arrival offering we knew YOU hadn’t heard of it, but respecting your receptiveness for NEW and GOOD we committed to it for your club. 
 
This comes from the more coastal part of Tuscany.  The small producer grows his Viognier in talc and limestone, affording the wine a mineral energy.   That’s vital for Viognier:  Without the rock effect we might be confronting more flaccid fruit, but no:  Viognier’s “fruit cocktail” scents and flavors come along with a good dose of VERVE.
 
If you like crab, you’ll LOVE it with this!     
 
Your first Furmint?
2016 SERPENS TOKAJ ‘Dry’ - Hungary
 
Why not bundle a Furmint with even more eccentrically-named esoteric varieties HarsIevelu and Sargmuskotaly and get it over with?!  Yep, here’s a blend of all three.  Don’t freak out:  Rejoice in the fact that the long-neglected offerings of Eastern Europe are finally getting to us, albeit at a slow, lurching pace.
 
“Tokaj” is actually the name of the wine region from which this dry wine and its super-sweet, nearly immortal counterparts come.  For all of our years here we have concentrated on bringing you the latter Hungarian wine type:  The dessert versions.  That’s how some of you have become familiar with Tokaj or “Tokay,” one of the world’s most amazing sweet wines.  Stories abound regarding Hungary’s reply to Sauternes, replete with Russian Czars sending guarded convoys to convey the precious cargo farther east.  . . . and the crazy way the wine was made (drippings off a stone table?)   . . . and how the Soviet Bloc period nearly decimated the entire industry . . . we should elaborate, but the publication deadline looms!
 
Certainly, this DRY wine is a great motivation for learning more - because it is delicious. 
 
The color is vaguely pale.  The scents straighten every unclipped hair in your nostrils to the rigid position of attention.  On the palate, laser beam acidity binds together fruit flavors recalling barely-ripe fresh pineapple and lime rind.  After the wine is gulped, the mouth remains haunted with this generous yet precise fruit effect.  One begins to imagine grilled shrimp - and fish tacos.  Pork roast?  One wonders, “Where has Hungarian wine been all my life??” 
 
We tasted this three months ago.  It is finally here.  We hope you love this white wine experience!        
 
July 2017
 
A Shameless Cut ‘n Paste from Last Year
2016 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! 
(“Yes, we longtime White Wine Club members first fell in love LAST year!”)
“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. 
(“We know.  We loved it LAST year!”)
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. 
(As he just did again THIS year!)
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.
(AGAIN!!)
 
This Welcomes Your Abuse
2015 VALDESIL ‘Montenovo’ GODELLO – Valdeorras, Galicia, Spain
 
I have visited Valdeorras but once, but that’s all it took to understand that Galicia is a very different-looking Spain.  If the predominate image of the country may be a bleak, broad and sunbaked meseta with mirages of Don Quixote on the horizon, Galicia (due north of Portugal on the Atlantic Coast) is the alternative “Green Spain.”  We had the chance for a brief swim in the Sil River there; a deep, chilly artery with a powerful current, where the Speedo’s we’d acquired back in Barcelona looked and felt terribly inappropriate.  We walked through vineyards replete with broken plates of black slate.  We ate octopus.  And we drank several quality levels of Godello, a grape you’d never see growing anywhere near sweltering Madrid.
 
Arguably more complex and often more durable than better-known Albariño and Verdejo, Godello gets my vote as Spain’s most interesting white grape (with apologies to all the other geeky varietals cropping up these days:  “Sorry, Malvar!”).  Even this inexpensive version has qualities reminding me of two highly-regarded French wines, Loire Valley Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay from Burgundy.  It is best known in a Burgundy (Pinot Noir) – style glass and at not-too-chilly a temperature.  Swirl it and honor it with several inquiring sniffs:  A shininess of lime is countered and softened by a softer fragrance of crème fraiche.  Feel how it lands on your palate (especially from this particular glass shape) and realize a replication of those effects in liquid form:  Generous stone fruit lushness is controlled with more linear, nearly-herbal savories.  By the time it leaves your mouth your tongue is sweating, perhaps anticipating our new Bergamino di Bufala cheese (a rich, soft, creamy buffer for this wine).
 
I invite you to find out what some great Godellos can do with air.  My first try at this was actually a mistake; you’re usually harming a white by leaving it uncorked on the kitchen counter all night.  – But now I sometimes do that on purpose and find a more mellow and intriguing wine the next day.  It worked with this one on my desk just the other day!  
 
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!
 
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!
 
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.
 
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!      
 
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 of  Spain’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. 
 
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 of  Spain’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. 
 
The complexity of developed white Burgundy for a nominal price:          
 
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!
 
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!      
 
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 Blanc  juice 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 an  aspirin-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!
 
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!
 
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.
 
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!
 
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!