Selections for June 2017

Top wine of a small producer.  Great Vintage.  Hardly comes to California!

2015 CHATEAU MALTUS – Lalande de Pomerol, Bordeaux, France

I’m pleased to be able to bring this to you, the top wine of Chateau des Landes.  I tasted ‘Maltus’ at the producer’s dinner table in January and immediately spoke for it.  The quick decision was necessary:  All Bordeaux 2015’s, even from satellite regions like Lalande de Pomerol, will be more delicious and sought for than any vintage since 2010.  THIS wine, made from 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, is represented by only 440 cases, none of which make it to California.  It was only by virtue of being on the Kysela Pere et Fils wine trip that I’d even heard of and tasted it, and could request a rare dispensation from that importer’s Winchester, Virginia warehouse.

This wine is young, but made in a style and from a vintage which indulge with dark fruit even if you get the bottle open sooner than later.  The soils of its Lalande de Pomerol source are based on gravel and clay, along with the presence of iron oxide which some might sense in the feel of this wine.  Winemaker / Proprietor Nicolas Lassagne matched the pedigree of his newly-acquired plot with quality new French oak barrels from the Limousin and Allier forests, in which the wine spent 18 months.  To these investments he added the extra effort of getting the wine to barrel before fermentation was finished.  This is an important step in modern Bordeaux winemaking.  Fermentation is the only time the wine is generating a bit of heat.  Introducing a slightly warmer wine to oak is thought to help with color and oak flavor integration.  You shouldn’t perceive more woodiness because of this; you should admire a darker tint and taste a wine whose fruit is in better agreement with the delicate nuance of vanilla.  Yet another labor intensive exercise was also applied.  Note the photo above:  The special barrels for Maltus were placed on rollers so they could be spun periodically, re-introducing the settled lees to the entire wine.  This, too, is a texture enhancement, and a technique practiced by several of Nicolas’ garagiste peers.  One further “enhancement” is expected of YOU.  Whether you drink this sooner or later, have a look at what Nicolas is making us for lunch (in the other pic).  Go thou, and do likewise!

I want to sell you a lot of this important value, and intentionally overbought to accommodate your cellaring a bit of it.  We have a nice excess amount at this time, and another ten six-packs arrive from Virginia a little later this year.  Get yours!      

Modest vintage?  Conservative producer?  It’s all good!

2014 DOMAINE le CLOS des CAZAUX ‘La Tour Sarrasine’ – Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France

Here, friends, is wine you can drink.  – At least it’s wine I can drink and I’m willing to share!  Unlike the incoming 2015’s, the 2014 Rhones show more restraint with respect to the rich kirshy-ness one might want from rock star Rhones.  This is no rock star.  This is REAL.  I’ve had to be a little more picky in selecting 2014’s for our store, but I find the step back in alcoholic sappiness a relief for once.  I can DRINK this stuff!

Clos des Cazaux is another producer we visited on our January trip, one with which I was previously unfamiliar, and I was glad for the introduction.  Other winery visits that same day had us tasting darker, richer, more modern Rhones, but Cazaux connoted tradition.  A perfect complement to Vintage 2014’s reserved style is this producer’s more laid back and patient winemaking way.  Jean-Michel Vache actually does his work in Vacqueyras, just adjacent to Gigondas where he also owns plots.  New oak barrels are nowhere to be found at his place; this wine saw nothing but stainless steel and concrete vats on its way to the bottle.  Jean-Michel would rather express the virtues of his vines which are quite old and sustainably (virtually organically) grown.  They and the less intrusive winemaking are the reason why you can drink this seemingly conservative wine for up to ten years.

Never fear:  We will bring you the big ‘15’s.  You will revel in their riper fruit and more heady richness.  In the meantime, let’s hear it for a more classical message from the Southern Rhone, where dried herbes, pepper, dust, and a more modest level of fruit all agree to get along for many a year!

Selections for May 2017

Smell it and KNOW!

2014 CHATEAU CAPBERN – Saint-Estephe, Bordeaux, France

I commit a lot of wordspace to calling red Bordeaux an ultimate winter wine.  Its more serious provision of sturdy fruit along with a certain severity of structure better accommodates gloomy weather and the rich fare we cook up to warm our tummies. 

Why, then, are we giving you such a sturdy, braised short rib-preferring red now that the sun’s out and the tomato vines finally know it’s time to party?  Because the importer ran out of this, mid-order.  Three cases have rested in the back room awaiting the next boat with the needed supplementation.  NOW we have enough of this nice value to show you. 

- And, regardless of season, it’s kick-ass Bordeaux so let’s just be grateful!

Here is 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot from Bordeaux’s Left Bank, which means you’re getting the more durable type of Bordeaux.  The critics say to allow this to loosen up over the next 3-4 years.  I say that depends on your tolerance of tannins, because I rather like a Bordeaux that’s a little too young versus one which sat around a little too long.  “Damn, we should have uncorked this sooner!” is rarely heard at my table.

Bordeaux is such a vintage-sensitive wine region.  The last time everyone was happy with nearly all of its output was 2010.  2011, 2012, and 2013 all had issues and we had to cherry-pick like crazy to keep good Bordeaux on our shelf.  While a big, fruit-forward, and much-anticipated 2015 supply of Bordeaux awaits us, I’m happy to be finding some perfectly-proportioned and traditionally–flavored 2014’s.  I believe we’ll be admiring ’14 with the provision of a little more hindsight as a perfectly “classical” vintage. 

2013 CASARENA MALBEC – Naoki’s Vineyard, Agrelo, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

We, the American Argentine Malbec-Admiring People (those who spend more than 8.99 for the stuff) are ready to embrace the next era of this wine type – I hope.  Yes, it’s up to YOU to approve or disapprove of a style thoughtful producers would like to show you; less black and bombastic and more elegant in texture and complex in scent and flavor.  Here is such a Malbec.  Those anticipating a more deliberate application of new oak will frown.  Others, hoping for a higher incidence of black fruit richness will wonder.  Considerate World Class Wine Club members will pause and reflect – and perhaps ALSO consider the validation of the wine critics.  More and more of those are supporting such wines with accolades previously reserved for wines delivering more New World bombast.

The fact is, of all the Bordeaux grape varieties Malbec is the least adept at carrying the weight of modern, “more is more” winemaking where riper fruit and newer barrels are utilized for a trophy wine effect of thickness and richness.  Nope, Malbec will always have a certain savory, nearly-green tanginess that simply doesn’t jive with that treatment.  “Let Malbec be Malbec” is the theme more recently heard from the more careful, lower-production makers, and the winemaking has adjusted to accommodate. 

Here is a wine emphasizing the LIVELINESS inherent in the grape.  It is FRESH and ENERGETIC and I’m CAPITALIZING many of my WORDS to DRIVE this point HOME!!  Think of how many more great meals would accompany such a vibrant experience.  Finally, those heavy meat dishes aren’t matched by a wine of similar weight and ponderosity; they’re relieved.  Now, the liveliness happening here is borne not only of less-heavy-handed winemaking but of its source as well.  Its makers have planted these young vines on some of the only limestone discovered in the Agrelo neighborhood of Mendoza.  Limestone, my friends, will always make a wine that’s more exciting to the palate, as great White Burgundy endlessly demonstrates.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awards this 91 points, noting that the next vintage of this very young project will demonstrate more depth.  We’ll keep an eye out for that, but in the meantime please appreciate the levity accompanying the rich flavors happening here; a very “New Malbec” thing for Argentina!      

Selections for April 2017

Grab this vintage!

2010 TERRABIANCA ‘Piano del Cipresso’ – Toscana, Italy

We would urge you to try this now WITH PROTEIN even though it’s still in need of a year or two to fully soften and bloom.  Why drink a wine that’s not quite all it will be?  Because NOW is when you can get MORE.  LATER it will be GONE.  Get it?  We think this is just your FIRST bottle of Cipresso; you’ll know when you appropriately have it at table.

Yes, this 100% Sangiovese will go the way of all those 2010 Brunellos which have come and rapidly gone based on acclaim.  All that is 2010 and Tuscan is transcendent, and we were pleasantly surprised to still be able to access this wine from a great year.  “Cipresso” is 100% Sangiovese grown mostly on the original Terrabianca Estate north of Siena and south of Florence.  Doesn’t that mean it should be called “Chianti” or “Chianti Reserva”?  Normally, but the wine also sources a little Sangiovese from the producer’s Maremma holding, still within Tuscany but west of Chianti proper and thereby disqualifying the moniker. 

A year in oversized French Oak barrels calmed the wine a bit, but when you feel it in your mouth you’ll have to “come to grips” with its significant tannins.  This 2010 is still a baby, but hard to resist when you smell its appealingly-rustic dusty cherries and iron, and savor the juicy mid-palate of ripe cherries and chocolate. 

Bistecca Fiorentina would be a classic accompaniment, but a good ol’ ribeye will also do the trick!

We do this a lot         

2013 Poliziano – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy

Your wine club budget accommodates many wines we call “World Class.”  Others go un-shown because of their prohibitive prices.  Chateauneuf-du-Pape can only rarely squeeze in, while its neighbors Gigondas and Vacqueyras qualify more often.  – And so it is in southern Tuscany where one famous Sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino, has been hyped out of the club range.  Our solution:  Head next door to another hill town, Montepulciano, for THEIR very worthy version of the varietal.  Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has frequently occurred in your club not only for its goodness; its more modest price point also works.

What’s the difference between Brunello and Vino Nobile?  I’d sum it up with one word:  Nerve.  Brunello is typically a little more full-bodied while Sangiovese as declared by Vino Nobile is more vibrant and zesty with zingy cherries and raspberries; even a sense of grapefruit when you’re sniffing “blind”.  Certainly, the soil differences contribute to this but there’s a variation in recipe to be considered as well.  Brunello is typically done with the “Sangiovese Grosso” clone and must be 100% varietal, while the wine in your glass today represents the Prugnolo Gentile clone of the grape and some blending is permitted. 

This Poliziano is composed of 85% Prugnolo Gentile, with the remainder committed to local varieties Canaiolo and Colorino along with international star Merlot.  Normal-sized barrels – mostly used – and oversized casks were both employed for a 14-16 month nap before bottling.  Sniffed and tasted alongside the Cipresso described above, one can sense the higher level of “energy” in this wine.  Part of that is attributable to its relative youth; this wine is three years younger than the other.  The other factor, no doubt, is the inherent “zest” of Vino Nobile, a quality which equips this for cellaring up to a decade!

Selections for March 2017

Shiraz synonymously

2010 CLARENDON HILLS SYRAH – Brookman Vineyard, Clarendon, Austrailia

Here is a wine meant to cost quite a bit more than what we’re asking.  For industry reasons with which we’ll not bore you, we are bringing you one of our favorite Australian producers at a very nice price.

Clarendon Hills is a cut above and a style apart from most of the higher-end Shiraz from Down Under, suggested even by the producer’s preference for the name “Syrah”.  Roman Bratasiuk – and now his sons – render dark and sumptuous red wine expressions, but ending the Clarendon Hills definition there is to miss a key point:  Roman’s winemaking premise is European.  Certainly, the warmth of this Australian region will produce alcoholic power, but a great awareness of and fondness for Burgundy and the Rhone   wines invokes intrigue and durability.  These Clarendon wines say more and last longer.

Over the years Robert Parker himself would taste the Clarendon line-ups.  As a group, they were among his most highly-rated wines.  I submit that per his palate this wine would receive a 94 point rating or higher.  However, someone else does the Aussie reviewing for Wine Advocate these days.  Her very good rating of 91 for this beauty is too stingy by my read, but her description is thoughtful:

      “Deep garnet-purple in color, the 2010 Brookman Vineyard Syrah displays notes of licorice, peppered salami and mocha over black plums and blackberry compote. Full-bodied, fruit forward and concentrated in the mouth, it has medium to firm levels of silky tannins and balanced acid to hold through the long finish. Drink it now to 2019.”

Parker would have given this more years of drinkability, and so would I.  Right now we have some 2006 Clarendon on our shelves that’s drinking beautifully.  If you uncork this sooner than later, please give it the benefit of air and a Pinot Noir-style glass.   Note how it tastes upon opening, then an hour later, the next day, and so on.  It will grow in smoothness and complexity, and provide voluptuosity the whole time!

Southern Italy’s Most Significant Red Grape?

2012 Re MANFREDI - Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy

Many a wine writer has proclaimed Aglianico as the equal of Piemonte’s Nebbiolo and Tuscany’s Sangiovese in terms of its complexity and potential for aging.  The wine you have before you justifies the notion, so long as users are judicious.  Bold foods, decanting, and / or cellaring will be necessary for a proper view of Re Manfredi . . . along with an Old World wine-appreciative perspective.

Some wines deliver brainless appeasement; soft on the tongue and big with recognizable ripe fruit.  Others, like this Aglianico from a volcano's leavings in Basilicata, Italy, deliver the challenge of thoughtful intrigue.  I first saw this label a few years ago when someone renting one of our temperature-controlled lockers gave me a 15-year-old example from his personal stash.  It indignantly bellowed with grumpy, curmudgeonly angst.  It upset me - in a good way.  It demanded my respect with unembarrassed Old-World-ness.  It made me want to eat a leg - or an arm or a wing.  We're providing this younger version of Re Manfredi to our World Class club and bought a little extra for the thoughtful wine world at large.  I dare you to confront it – properly!

Selections for February 2017

The Old and the New

2011 PROTOS RESERVA – Ribera del Duero, Spain

The photo above conveniently suggests two attitudes of Spain, the modern and the classical.  This is the town of Peñafiel in the Ribera del Duero wine region.  The iconic boat-shaped castle on the hilltop dates back to the days of the Reconquista and is fully restored; within it is a museum for wine.  Below the castle:  The latest, very modern home of Protos.  It’s a deceiving look; if you’d seen their original digs you’d understand why this winery called by the Greek name for “first” makes very traditionally-styled Ribera del Duero:  Protos is a pioneer; old-school.

Here is 100% Tempranillo aged in 80% French and 20% American oak barrels for 18 months.  As I’ve noted many times before, Ribera del Duero and Rioja are Spain’s greatest, most famous Tempranillo places.  Rioja, classically rendered and aged, brings you a suave and mellow red wine experience some folks equate to French Burgundy.  Conversely, Ribera del Duero is the “Bordeaux of Spain” supplying a darker and bigger wine. 

On our WineBar today we’re showing a lineup of five Spanish Tempranillos.  The final taste comes from Ribera del Duero in the form of Tamaral Reserva, a wine we brought your club some months ago.  I’m trying it right next to the Protos.  Tamaral’s label is simple and shiny; modern and abrupt.  The wine itself is big and endearingly fruit-forward.  The packaging for Protos is alternatively classical and the wine follows the idea with a little more earthiness in the nose and drying structure on the palate.  Two years ago I attended a party happening no more than a half mile down the road from Protos.  Ribera del Duero wine was free-flowing, and working perfectly with Spain’s favorite Tempranillo mate, grilled lamb.  We hope you’ll try this classical wine within that classical pairing!

World Class Northwest!

2013 BETZ ‘Besoleil’ – Columbia Valley, Washington State

For World Class Club members wondering why a domestic wine has landed in their bag we offer no apology; only an explanation.  For The Wine Steward, “World Class” happens wherever thoughtfulness, distinctiveness, and a certain, higher quality level coincide – locally or internationally (with an EMPHASIS on international!).  Our Red Collector Club captures the Cabernet-oriented, Napa-style wines, so where do we put a very deserving, fragrant and deftly-crafted Rhone-style Washington State beauty?  We put it before the thoughtful and open-minded members of YOUR club with – again – no apologies, and expecting very little outcry!

Here is a silky and sensuous blend of 49% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 16% Cinsault, 9% Mourvèdre, and 6% Counoise.  The nose brings you smoke, dried herbs, and framboise (raspberry liqueur).  The palate is lush and broad, conveying mocha and cherry pastry.  The styling is classy, resisting the more definitive Washington State wine tendency of over-the-top-ness.      

We don’t depend on ratings for our selections, but it’s fun when one of the major critics in the industry aligns with our own opinion:

Robert Parkers Wine Advocate: “92 POINTS.   It's an elegant, medium to full-bodied, Provencal-styled effort that has lots of sweet red and black fruits, garrigue and hints of cured meats. It's a total charmer that will have 10-12 years of overall longevity.”

Selections for January 2017

Impress your friends . . .

2014 ALAYA TIERRA – Almansa, Spain

Yes, this comes from Europe.  Yes, it’s got the “intrigue factor” of being made entirely of Garnacha Tintorera, otherwise known as Alicante Bouschet, one of the world’s only red grapes with red flesh and juice.  But is it classical?  Far from it, when “classical” is weighed by notions of lower alcohol, higher acidity, and a lower fruit-forwardness.  Nope:  This, my friends, is a WHOPPER.    

But is it “World Class” and thereby worthy of your club?  By all means, based on other just-as-valid criteria.  Alaya Tierra is the flagship wine of Atalaya from Spain’s “Moorish” southeast region of Almansa.  One of the world’s only strongholds for the Grenache / Petit Bouschet cross Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera), this particular rendering hails from the region’s higher elevations where limestone soils add energy to wines which – in this very hot place – would otherwise be awkwardly fat.

Because not only the skins but also the juice of the grape at play are red in color, the resulting wine is incredibly colored.  The flavors are intense with damson plum, mulberry, and morello cherry fruit along with a sweet earthiness of fresh tobacco.  The textures are undeniably voluptuous.

I know most of you, and understand why you’re in this particular club.  To you preferers of the Classical:  Save the Burgundy and Bordeaux and Vino Nobile we’ve supplied for your thoughtful, smaller circle of geeky wine friends.  When your California wine-loving guests invade for dinner, open THIS.

We Snagged Some!

2012 ABADIA RETUERTA ‘Selección Especial’ – Sardon del Duero, Spain

A wine we’ve long admired and have provided before has landed once again on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list, as noted above (only the trip to the west coast makes our price a tiny bit higher than advertised).  We are in total agreement with their assessment:  This is a delicious, relatively affordable world class wine The Wine Steward should always try to keep in stock!

Sardon del Duero is directly adjacent to Spain’s famous Ribera del Duero region.  Abadia Retuerta, being one of those wineries thinking outside the box of current wine legislation, appreciates the satellite situation which allows more winemaking freedom.  This blend of 75% Tempranillo and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon accommodates the sexy, palate-polishing addition of 10% Syrah only because they choose to NOT be included in the more famous area.  Just before New Year’s we showed over a dozen World Class wines to a select group of clients and included a bottle of Abadia Retuerta’s 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was amazing, yet would not have existed as Ribera del Duero.  This winery sacrifices regional notoriety for a more heroically defiant “We’ll do what we believe in” winemaking way.

 A red-black color invites the nose to exult in a heady fragrance of framboise, tobacco, sweet plums, coffee beans, and freshly-unwrapped dark chocolate.  The plush and well-framed mouthfeel carries dark cherries and blood orange tanginess and graphite tannins.

I was not raised as a lamb eater, coming to love it only later.  Having turned that corner of preference I’ve happily discovered how easy it is to quickly render those triangle-shaped shoulder chops on the grill with little more than olive oil, black pepper, and coarse salt as a treatment.  Tasting this beautiful red at 11 a.m. for note-writing purposes, I have that accompaniment in mind for tonight and the rest of this bottle!

Selections for December 2016

You’re not seeing double . . .

2012 il FAUNO di ARCANUM – Tuscany, Italy

We shoot forward seven vintages to bring you yet another ‘Arcanum’ but one month later.  While we’ve adequately advocated for this wine which seems to satisfy perennially, why provide the newest bottling so soon?  Why subject you to another non-Sangiovese blend of 48% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Petit Verdot right after its delicious, mellowed-out library experience?

Here’s why:

Wine Spectator just placed this new release on its Top 100 list at the 19th position.  Sensation ensued, a buying frenzy commenced, and our savvy rep told us to speak asap for our two-case allocation or miss out. 

We replied, “Il Fauno has seen support from TWS and its customers long enough to deserve more.  Can you please grant us enough for our World Class Club?”

(Pause)  “Yes, barely, if you take it NOW!”

. . . And so you have the youthful flip-side of last month’s older il Fauno Arcanum before you.  Delicious now, it will gain complexity over the next year or so.  We all now know how it ages; I’d advise some patience. 

Wine Spectator’s review:

“93 points:   A polished, flavorful red, boasting floral, black currant, raspberry and spice flavors. Firm yet harmonious, with the fine aftertaste lingering with fruit, iron, tobacco and tea elements. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Drink now through 2024.”     

An relenting curmudgeon                              

2009 VIGNETI del VULTURE ‘Piano del Cerro’ – Aglianico del Vulture

Some years ago those in the know began declaring Aglianico to be Southern Italy’s up-and-coming equal to Piemonte’s Nebbiolo and Tuscany’s Sangiovese.  At its best, it was implied, this grape could answer the intrigue and complexity and cellarworthiness of great Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.  That said, its message of rustic, gnarly fruit and formidable tannins is completely different; you cannot entirely compare apples to pears to oranges!    

Your two most famous and durable and complex examples of Aglianico?  Campagnia’s Taurasi and Basilicata’s Aglianico del Vulture.  This is the latter, from 70-80 year-old vines grown on the ancient volcano of Mount Vulture.  While some say you can’t perceive the soil from which a wine is derived, I insist that you can when you’re talking about older vines working in granite, limestone, slate, flint or volcanic product such as the dirt of Vulture.  Come on, just smell this and tell me a cinder cone isn’t in the neighborhood!

Dramatic – nearly frightening - with its grumpy tirade of scowling cherries and almost Carmenere-like hedge-trimming-ness, this wine surprises you with a generous syrup once it lands on your palate.  That is wonderfully developed Aglianico happening, tamed by time (and two long years in new French oak).  The tarry tannins persist, but now they’re comfortably wrapped in warm blankets of saucy black fruit. 

If ever there was a wine for winter fare – be it a big chunk of meat, rich mushrooms, or ripe cheeses – this is it!    

Selections for November 2016

Let’s get “Library” yet again . . .

2005 il FAUNO di ARCANUM – Tuscany, Italy

While we didn’t mean to do this so regularly, several recent submissions to your club have been older wines.  I’ve already spoken to the more mellowed-out effect befitting this colder and (hopefully) damper time of year and the requisite table fare, so this time I’ll comment on what this wine proves.

We have shown younger versions of il Fauno to your club at least twice, perhaps three times.  While Wine Spectator and Robert Parker report on only a few vintages, all the ratings have been 90 points or above.  Every time we have featured it the price has been very fair considering an ample delivery of character and power.  With the provision of this 2005, il Fauno’s reputation is firmly established.  NOW we know how the wine can age.  You are savoring an 11-year-old wine costing less than thirty dollars after wine club discount.  You are admiring a very healthily-colored, beefily-scented, and significantly-structured blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.  With at least two other vintage experiences in the databases of longtime club members, let’s just say it:  Il Fauno is one of the world’s great wine values.

Enjoy with a pork tenderloin, roasted on the bone and topped with a cherry-plum fruit sauce. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

2012 CHATEAU de CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET ROUGE – Chassagne-Montrachet, Burgundy, France

Burgundy, both red and white, represents one of the wine world’s most expensive categories.  That is, you have to pay a lot for greatness.  The hefty rates are borne of demand, economy of scale (most producers own or access smaller amounts of fruit from here or there), and some recent weather-related crop depletions.

But like great Champagne, there’s nothing like Burgundy.  This is Pinot Noir which needn’t be alcoholically “big” to impress, if you’re the contemplative kind of wine lover spending at least as much time sniffing as sipping.  – And so we must bring it to our thoughtful World Class Club members from time to time.

This particular Burgundy is delicious yet more accessibly-priced for several reasons.  The Bader-Mimeur Family, having operated in Burgundy since the 1700’s, owns or manages larger amounts of land than many producers, easing the economy of scale pressure a bit.  Additionally, this is a selection from Importer Charles Neal who operates here in the Bay Area.  Unlike many other European wines we access, his wines travel from Europe non-stop, sans East Coast toll-charging middlemen.  I also respect Charles’ lower overhead / lower margin rates.  Everything he brings us is a very fair deal.  Then there’s the “take all” price he recently proposed:  Seeing just seven cases of this left in his warehouse, Charles offered us a better price opportunity on the whole lot.  We bit.  You win.  

Finally, there’s the matter of this being Chassagne-Montrachet ROUGE.  This particular appellation is better known for its Chardonnays, and the Pinots from here often feature under-the-radar value in comparison.

It is 10:30 a.m. and nothing could be more fragrant or tastier at this hour than the fruit tart expression of this juicy, mineral-driven Pinot in my mouth.  If the wine makes it to dinner time (doubtful) it will meet up with some King Salmon,- and next Thursday roast turkey will be its accomplice!   

Selections for October 2016

Properly Mellowed Bordeaux – Once More

2006 CHATEAU La CABANNE – Pomerol, France

Last month we brought you a nicely-aged 2007 Bordeaux from a less-prestigious area.  This month we show you another from one of the two Right Bank premium sub-regions, Pomerol.  The arrival of this wine is perfectly timed, as today we expect to see the Bay Area’s first significant dumping of rain.  Such weather dramatically adjusts my appetite in a particular direction, and I’m not the only one so affected.  I was a supermarket produce manager for several years and repeatedly noted the phenomenon with respect to my customers’ buying habits.  On warm days with the sun beating down my lettuce and tomato sections needed constant tending.  On gloomier, grey days my sales of potatoes, onions, and other root vegetables would take off and the lettuce was largely forgotten. 

While I made similar recommendations last month, this wine experience provokes repetition.  Aged Bordeaux, with its relaxed and comfy mellowed-out way, is wonderful with slow-cooked meats, whether braised or roasted.  That, of course, is what many of us inherently choose to eat on rainy Fall / Winter evenings, and a visit to my old produce haunt equips the chef with mushrooms and root veggies as delicious accessories. 

This is 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc (the two stars of the Left Bank) from the land of Chateaux Petrus and Hosanna grown in gravelly-clay.  The 2006 Bordeaux vintage always struck me as an under-sung year, with preceding, highly-hyped 2005 stealing the thunder.  I think this lovely wine is a good lesson to the wine lover that there are good things – and sometimes better values – to be found outside the limelight. 

For my romantically-inclined sense of wine, aged bottles like this transcend flavor descriptors such as tobacco, plum, and leather and can actually exude an attitude of nostalgic warmth.  For my rain-adjusted mood, I’m drinking the perfect red.     

Saucy Stuffe!

2009 TAMARAL RESERVA – Ribera del Duero, Spain

There could hardly be a more appropriate alter-ego to the 2006 Bordeaux described above.  While no youngster either - at seven years of age - this 100% Tempranillo exudes a very different effect of irresistible hedonism to the eye with densely opaque maroon-ness and to the nose with a nearly-hickory sense of sauciness.  On the palate there is depth of fruit weight, amply laced with the dark caramel of oak.  Then there’s the structure:  Tempranillo, especially as grown in Ribera del Duero, can be both tannic and acidic.  While most wine varieties startle the palate with just one of these effects, Spain’s noble grape can challenge your mouth with a double whammy of effects. 

Anticipating this daunting combination of sauce and grip, we prescribe a hearty dose of quality lamb.  In Spain there are two main treatments of that meat and both are delightful replies to a wine such as Tamaral.  Young lamb, with nothing more than salt applied, can be quickly grilled yet effectively catch the cooking smoke to better complement the tobacco in this wine.  Alternatively, a lamb shank might be slow roasted to provide a more melt-in-your-mouth effect.  If this doesn’t sound quite correct I apologize before insisting that lamb’s richness contributes by “lubricating”.  When a big wine’s tannins and/or acids strip your tongue of its protective coating, you restore it via protein.  All this is worthless to vegetarians, to whom I apologize and recommend a hearty wild mushroom dish!

If all goes as planned your club may be seeing THREE different Ribera del Dueros over the coming months and one, remarkably,  will be white!

Selections for September 2016

Properly Mellowed Bordeaux

2007 CHATEAU MARTET ‘Reserve de Famille’ – Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux, France

This rare look back happens courtesy of Louis de Coninck, proprietor / winemaker of southeast Napa’s Beaucanon Estate.  The family of this Frenchman / California Winegrower has been making wine in Bordeaux for nearly 300 years, which Louis imports to us.

Sainte-Foy is part of Bordeaux’s larger Entre-deux-Mers subregion, named for its position between the two significant rivers Dordogne and Garonne.  This is Merlot Country.  Cabernet Sauvignon, hero of the Left Bank, happens here only occasionally. 

I’m very happy with the development that’s happened here, an effect you normally have to achieve with your own patient cellaring.  The color of the wine has moved from youthful dark red to a more earthy crimson.  The nose declares spice and dried flowers and plum plus a more mysterious effect of aged beef.  The palate feel is supple; fully relaxed.  A fruit and earth duet confirm a “Phase II” wine.

Don’t save this “ready for primetime wine” overlong.  Drink it this Fall or Winter with braised meats, and savor the development afforded us by someone else’s patient cellaring!      

Grab those 2010’s!

2010 LA CHAPELLE de MEYNEY – Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux, France

Unlike the Entre-deux-Mer wine described above, this hails from Bordeaux’s Left Bank where the soils are more gravelly, better-accommodating Cabernet.  Here is the second wine of Chateau Meyney which boasts as neighbors 2nd growth Chateau Montrose and 3rd growth Calon Segur.  It is made of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon and 44% Merlot and saw a sixteen-month sojourn in French oak. 

Most importantly, perhaps:  This is a 2010.  There is hardly a Bordeaux from this vintage that can’t be admired for its intense darkness of color, potent ripeness of fruit, and bracing tannic structure.  While Bordeaux’s 2009s impressed us with those first two qualities, ’10 trumps ’09 with that latter, more age-worthy aspect.   The high acclaim for 2010 Bordeaux was predictably matched by higher prices for its bottles, so finding a second wine from a very good estate with renowned neighbors is a savvy solution.

This 2010 boasts a deep fragrance of cassis, licorice, and black fruits.  It has great impact on the palate for its reasonable price; all of the anticipated blackberry, licorice, and creosote aspects are amply delivered.  This wine should age nicely for another ten years or more.

Selections for August 2016

You’ve probably never heard of this…

2014 DOMAINE LOMBARD ‘Grand Chêne’ – Brézème, Somewhere in the Rhone Valley, France

I’m grateful to whoever drew the map shown above.  It’s one of few that identifies little-known Cotes du Rhone appellation Brézème.  We have carried but one other red from here in our nearly-seventeen years: Eric Texier’s, the only other example I’ve ever seen. 

We have shown you enough Northern and Southern Rhones over the years for you to recall the main difference between the two.  In the warmer south such places as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and Rasteau produce reds based on the Grenache grape, with Syrah and Mourvèdre (sometimes others) playing supporting roles.  Now hop on your scooter and point it toward Lyon.  In the northern part of the southern Rhone you begin to see blends where Syrah’s percentage matches that of Grenache, or overtakes it.  Heading farther north past a very visible nuclear power plant in Grignan-les-Adhemar the vineyards abruptly end and for many kilometers the Rhone River is flanked by other crops and a scattering of big box stores.  Finally, you reach the Northern Rhone places of Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and the like.  You’ve achieved Syrah Country, where that grape is the exclusive player in the red wines (though certain whites may be added to these in certain neighborhoods).

But wait, we passed Brézème!  Easily missed, this wine place on the Rhone’s east bank and back a few kilometers had dwindled to but one hectare (a little over two acres) of grapevines a few decades back.  It has rebounded since then but remains tiny compared with other Rhone sub-regions. 

So, are we in the northern part of the Southern Rhone or the southern part of the Northern Rhone?  If the grape involved in this bottle gets to say, we are in the north:  This is 100% SYRAH, most closely resembling Crozes-Hermitage in style, size, and price.  Its nose is exotic with saddle leather, dried apricot, tamarind, blood orange, wet tobacco, and cured meat.  The mouth weight reminds us that Northern Rhones can be modestly “Burgundian” in stature, but the payback happens with CHARACTER.  Rustic intrigue is the message of this eccentric, tiny-appellation rarity.  Wish not for more richness in this 12.5% alcohol wine.  Rather, appreciate its refreshing rebuttal to decadent food such as grilled lamb chops.

Beautiful Tradition . . .

2012 PAITIN ‘Serra’ – Barbaresco, Piemonte, Italy

This month I’m asking our staff to try all 12 wine club wines blind.  Arranged on the kitchen counter are brown bags hiding their vinted contents, with the idea being that tasting objectively can further train the palate.  I can’t ask you to do the same.  You’re reading right here that you have a Barbaresco, rendered from the Nebbiolo grape, so your expectations are already at work; subjectivity is now at play.

- But let’s pretend you don’t know that.  Pour this into a Pinot Noir-style glass for analysis and put the bottle away.  Note the color – or lack of it.  Look through this thinly-tinted wine with a white piece of paper beneath:  What’s striking is the paleness of hue and the orange-brown brick-redness.  This is no Cabernet or Petite Sirah, that’s for certain!  Now close your eyes and after a bit of swirling put your nose to work:  A sultry, dusty perfume of heated strawberries, white smoke, raw beef, and dried flowers fascinates (I hope) your senses.  I have been practicing this for two minutes now, and am ready for a sip: 

Silky textures carrying juicy oranges and dried rose petals are followed by abrupt tannins, and my aggrieved tongue is now convinced of what its processing:  Here is Piemontese Nebbiolo from the Barbaresco sub-region, in its unashamed traditional form.  While other producers (Gaja and La Spinetta, most famously) steer their Barbareschi toward a popularly endearing, modern message of darker and more comfortable fruit, THIS honors the original model.  THIS excites the purists (frankly, I love both styles!). 

Like German Riesling, Northern Rhone Syrah, and Red Burgundy, Nebbiolo such as this is an “arrival wine,” a drink not fully understood by the rookie.  The biggest mistake that wine taster can make is the too-early dismissal of a great wine type.  We admonish the tentative and unsure:  Keep wondering why veteran wine lovers hold a special place for such varieties and regions, no matter how unsettling your own early experiences of those wines may be.  With open-mindedness kept in play, you will re-taste that formerly-misunderstood Barolo or Barbaresco and have your “Ah HA!” moment.  A bell sounds, and from behind storm clouds of doubt the sun of enlightenment emerges.  A choir of angels proclaims your triumph, as your credit card recoils in fear of your new, more expensive awareness.

We are immensely pleased to bring you this classic at a very decent price for the type and quality.  Honor it with braised short ribs or ossabucco. 

P.S.  I have been typing these notes for fifteen minutes now.  In the meantime, this wine has softened dramatically.  We are now very good friends.                                  

Wine Spectator Magazine awards this 92 points:

“A bright, juicy red, exhibiting cherry, raspberry, licorice, spice and floral flavors. Becomes more tannic, lingering on the moderately long finish. Decant now or cellar for two to three years. Best from 2018 through 2030. 1,000 cases made.”

Selections for July 2016

Priorat gets Class

2012 MAS DOIX ‘Salanques’ – Priorat, Spain

The photographic “triptych” above was captured just two weeks ago and essentially represents the special wine before you.  On the left you see vines struggling to survive, but they’ve managed to do so for many decades.  Age, along with depriving soils, makes for tiny yet expressive fruit yields.  This wine utilizes old vines contributing but a pound of grapes each.  Two of those hardworking plants were necessary to provide each of you with one bottle.

Middle Frame:  A close-up of an exposed face of “Licorella” slate, the prevailing mineral here.  There is very little in the way of actual “dirt” in this Priorat region an hour-and-a-half’s drive (and a world away) from Barcelona.  Shy-bearing slate is all the poor farmer gets. 

Finally, the photo on the right introduces you to Valenti Llagostera whose family has toiled in these unforgiving parts (specifically, Poboleda in northeast Priorat) for over a century.  We include him in our triptych for more than his enthusiasm and amiable way.  Valenti’s attention to detail invokes a Priorat wine with more elegance than most.  Folks, this is a pretty hot, sun-blasted place with a propensity for conferring cowboy-style alcoholic ruggedness on its blends of Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan).  Valenti’s watchful eye and appreciation for restraint reigns in Priorat’s more rambunctious tendencies.  Yes, this Priorat betrays its source with airy scents of sundrenched slate but the style is more refined than many I’ve had and rejected on your behalf.  That’s Valenti at work, and because of its restraint ‘Salanques’ (65% Garnacha and 35% Cariñena, though some tech sheets betray a small Syrah addition) has the potential to last longer than most.  Valenti shared a magnum of the 2007 Salanques over lunch and it was beautiful, fresh and exuberant, untouched by age except in softening.

This is a very special little region in Spain where no wine is inexpensive.  The formidable farming prevents that - no tractors can traverse Priorat and you already read about the barely-producing, margin-defying vines.  However, the wines are distinctive.  Heat, slate, and – in this case – proprietary precaution add up to something not duplicated anywhere else.

Wine Spectator awards Valenti’s 2012 ‘Salanques’ 93 points saying:

“Fresh and focused, this firm red delivers bright cherry and wild berry fruit, with floral, citrus and mineral notes. Harmonious to the point of seeming simple, but the elegance masks impressive depth and intensity. Exhibits power with grace.”

Savor this hard-won wine now or later.

Carignan Plays Again . . .

2010 CANTINA SANTADI ‘Shardana’ – Valli di Porto Pinot, Sardegna, Italy

We say too little about Carignano (regional synonyms “Cariñena,” “Carignan,” and “Mazuelo”), a vital player throughout what I call the “Mediterranean Wine Crescent” encompassing famous regions such as Priorat, Montsant, Corbieres, Languedoc-Roussillon, Southern Rhone, and here in Sardegna/Sardinia off Italy’s west coast below France’s Corsica.

Rarely playing a solo role, Carignan is especially felt in Priorat (as in the ‘Salanques’ described above) because Grenache is often the only other player in the blends.  Grenache dependably sings the high notes:  Strawberries, cherries, and flowers.  Carignan’s part?  The bass notes; contributing dark color, gutsy earthiness, and bittersweet dark chocolate.  Carignan on its own can be downright “grimy” in aspect but as a part of the sum its contribution lays a solid foundation.

“Shardana” was the ancient seafarer’s name for the natives of Sardinia, and this wine by that name represents a partnership between Importer Neil Empson and Villa Santadi, who emphasizes wines from the southern part of the island.  Their best known whites come from the Vermentino grape.  Another variety important here is Cannonau, Sardegna’s Grenache clone.  This wine is Carignano-dominant (much of itcoming from pre-phylloxera century-old vines) with a little graceful polish courtesy of a 15% Syrah visit.  12 months in French Oak also soothed this savage Carignano beast – to a point; the nose exhibits a gruff wildness, an attitude echoed in the earthy tannins on the palate.  – But dark fruit and chocolate add an effect of sumptuousness.  This is an important wine with a real regional and varietal voice; complex and very foodworthy.  This 2010 has yet to be rated by the critics we follow, but its predecessor received 93 points from Parker’s Wine Advocate.  We feel this 2010 deserves some accolades, too!

Selections for June 2016

Encore!

2011 CARPINETO Riserva – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy

Here is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo Nero, aged for two years in oversized, previously-used Slovenian oak casks.  Just importantly, it comes from the southern Tuscan region of Montepulciano.

With those facts in place, let’s now resolve some confusion – and cause some.

Depending on your experience of Italy and its wine, you may know “Montepulciano” as a completely different wine.  That’s because the “Montelpulciano” GRAPE happens elsewhere; especially in the Marche and Abruzzo regions on Italy’s eastern side along the Adriatic.  THAT wine is darker in color; a nearly-black, compact lesson in walnut skin tannins.  As mentioned above, we are tasting the Tuscan PLACE called Montepulciano here, where the predominant grape is Sangiovese and the challenge to your palate is less tannic, more acidic.  “Montepulciano” the grape and “Montepulciano” the wine place could not be more unalike.  Got it?

Now, let’s get blurry.  Italy is a very old wine country, but a fairly new one politically.  Formerly divided up in many mini-kingdoms, a myriad of cultures coincided on this long, narrow band of land.  Each affected cuisine, language, fashion, and – of course – wine.  Finally unified as of the mid-1800’s, the newly intact nation still features significant regional variations.  The Sangiovese grape itself indicates this, with different names and clones and many a proud, local claim for whom has the best examples.  Grown not far from the hill town of Montepulciano, Montalcino’s “Sangiovese Grosso” makes the Brunello wines.  Montepulciano’s clone of Sangiovese is different:  “Prugnolo Gentile.”  Whether the latter is within the clonal jurisdiction of the other is the subject of much chatter which I find wearying and – after a while – unnecessary.  I would rather leave it to this:  The two wines are different.  Sangiovese from Montalcino (Brunello, that is) tends to be more brawny than this more sleek and vibrant Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  We expect heft from the former, zest from the latter.  Unashamed to be but medium-bodied, this Carpineto compensates with character.  Its 2010 predecessor (provided to your club in late 2014) received a 93 point rating from Wine Spectator and subsequently appeared on that publication’s famous “Top 100” list.  This 2011 has now received the same score with the notes:

“A rich, powerful style, this evokes black cherry, black currant, plum, leather and tar flavors. Balanced and ready to enjoy, with lingering accents of spice and tobacco. Drink now through 2023.”      

“Rich”?  “Powerful”?  Are they referring to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano?  Yes, if character and not body is the reference.  As for Carpineto’s best use, wild boar is the ideal.  Lacking that, a thick smoked pork chop would certainly do just fine!

He did it again . . .

2015 De MORGENZON RESERVE XXXXXXXXXXX (The best grape in the world) – Stellenbosch, South Africa

This is a rare but perfectly legal (we wrote the rules) provision of a white wine.  World Class Club members are typically amenable to the idea that wine beauty happens in more than one color.

A great fellow wine mind, Jeremy, showed this to me in a vendor appointment just last week.  Unlike the rest of his line-up he poured it unrevealed and used a Burgundy glass.  This was less about stumping the chump, more about objectivity.  I knew his game - or most of it:  His glass choice and the mystery wine’s obvious resemblance to Meursault or Chassagne-Montrachet meant to have me guessing outside of Burgundy’s Chardonnay places.  I observed that Burgundy-like Chardonnay, with its graceful take on that oft-overmade grape, sometimes happens elsewhere.  Kumeu River in New Zealand, Luca in Argentina, and certain conservatively rendered Santa Maria Chardonnays came to mind.  Here was a wine suggesting any and all of those with a nose bringing lively crème fraiche richness and poached pear and apple crate lift.  The message in the mouth, however, was a departure, with more baking spice than I’d expect.  I’d hit a dead end.

Finally, Jeremy relieved me of my quandary.  Here was 100% Chenin Blanc from the only place in the world where “The best grape in the world” can consistently, sometimes brilliantly succeed – other than its Loire Valley regions of Vouvray, Saumur, Savennieres, and Montlouis-sur-Loire.  South Africa makes many an affordable Chenin quaffer, and sometimes aspires to this level of gorgeousness.  Note that within the layers of fruit generosity there persists a lean-ness of tongue-bracing lemonicity.  This acidic feature is what makes great Chenin one of the world’s few age-able whites.  I once tasted a 1947 Chenin Blanc in Saumur, uncorked within sixty yards of its moldy crypt deep within a moist chalk cave.  It was more than just alive.  It was fresh, dynamic, shiny.  Naturally, few Chenin Blancs (few wines of ANY variety) have this propensity, but the wine before you will provide very good things over at least ten years’ time.

“The best grape in the world?”  That occurs on every Wine Steward WineBar menu whenever Chenin Blanc is in the mix.  I proclaim this knowing there’s no such thing, and to assert my way past its jug wine stigma:  Chenin is truly A great grape of the wine world.  A perusal of the ratings given to this particular maker’s Chenin Blanc efforts suggests the wine critics are on my side!