"I KNOW OF NO ONE WHO CAN TAKE THE STUFFINESS OUT OF A WINE BLOG AND TURN IT INTO A THEATRICAL, SATIRICAL YET EXTREMELY INFORMATIVE PIECE OF WORK THAN DEB FROST"-TERRY P
Château Pascaud Bordeaux Superior 2015
As many of us are all too painfully aware, Bordeaux is the French region responsible for some of the world’s most illustrious- and expensive- wines. The legendary bottles from the finest chateaus, laid away for decades, are as accessible to even the fairly well-heeled, as a great deal on a Rembrandt at auction. But the reality is that the terroir of the region, with gravel, sandy stone and clay, buffeted by an ocean climate, is fairly standard throughout. As is the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, rounded out with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot or Malbec. Chateau Pascaud Bordeaux Superior, whose grapes are grown on hillsides with conditions very like the nearby Saint Emilion, is a great example of the real bang you can get for a buck if you simply know where to look. And compared to the skyrocketing prices of similar California wines, this is an even greater bargain. Primarily Merlot, this bottle is a deep ruby color, with soft tannins and hints of licorice, blackberry and cherry. Let it breathe a little, and never mind fooling your guests— even you will have a hard time believing you found something this good for under $20 a bottle. It seriously compares to wines being sold for nearly four or five times as much. It is unbelievably food friendly, pairing beautifully with everything from eggplant to steak, and of course, delectable French cheese. But with Thanksgiving just around the corner, you may want to start thinking about it as an equally fine compliment to turkey and great alternative to Zinfandel. It’s not too early to stock up and leave the worries to some other holiday issues.
Domaine des Valanges Macon-Davaye 2017
The Mâconnais is one of Burgundy’s most vibrant regions right now. Where Pouilly-Fuissé’s rich, ripe wines once took pride of place, towering above the preponderance of simple inexpensive bottles once lumped together as Mâcon Villages, there is a new generation of winemakers. Not bound to the formal strictures of domaines that trace their vineyards and hoary traditions back to the Middle Ages, these adventurers are passionately committed to the freedom of expression of the most au courant methods of natural farming. Jocelyn and Michel Pacquet formed Domaine des Valanges in 1980. Their original 2.5 hectares has since increased to 11, of which 8 are located in the appellation of Saint Véran. The terroir is especially conducive to the Chardonnay grape, pre-eminent in all of their wines. This plot, called “Les Prés Cousins,” after the district in which it is located, is ideally situated halfway up the sloping alps, in silky clay soil covered by a solid limestone band. The minerality anchors this honey pear ambrosia that is a graceful aperitif and fantastic accompaniment for fish, seafood, white meat and innumerable vegan entrees. A pure palate pleaser!
Château Du Petit Thouars Les Georges 2016 Chinon Rouge
Loire Valley, France
Chinon, located south of the Loire on its left bank, produces Cabernet Franc unmistakably different than expressions of the noble grape elsewhere-- somewhat less harsh, softer, fresher, and fruitier. Perhaps it is only fitting that the only Chinon legendary Neal Rosenthal has at long last found worthy of importing under his reputable mantel comes from the renovation of one of the area’s oldest properties, with a fascinating legacy unto itself. The grand estate was built in the early 1500’s as a little hunting lodge for a wealthy family with an even more luxurious home in its native Thouars and has been since known as “Petit Thouars.” In 1636, it was purchased the first George, Cardinal Richelieu’s diplomat, and has managed to remain in the family for twelve generations, through the French Revolution (at which point one of the current owner’s ancestors fled to fight for America’s independence), the subsequent wars that consumed not only Europe, but the world. Wine was there produced there centuries ago, but it was not until the 1970s, when the father of the current George (commonly known as Sebastién) planted a 10th of the 150 hectare estate, directly behind the great house,with Cabernet Franc. Sebastién and his wife D’Arcy decided in 2013 to move to the chateau from Paris to raise their young family and revitalize the wine-making operation.The clay- limestone terroir (as opposed to the sandier soils in which cabernet franc thrives elsewhere) is exceptional for beautifully structured red wines as well as superb Chenin Blanc. The facilities are managed by a native Chinnonais, Michel Pinard, formerly aide-du-camp to one of the appellation’s finest vignerons, Charles Joquet. And what a stupendous, easy drinking palate tickling quaffer this is. Wonderful for simple fall dinners and lightening all manner of gloom, seasonal or otherwise.
Marc Deschamps Pouilly-Sur-Loire 2017
Loire Valley, France
NEWSFLASH! We are not bringing you this bulletin to further confuse you regarding French white wines with similar sounding names that many Americans may well be too embarrassed to even try to pronounce or order in public, never mind contemplate the distinctions. Some of us may have encountered Pouilly Fuissé in Hemingway’s descriptions of the good life in Paris before we were old enough to legally purchase it, even if it were readily available anywhere other than the most sophisticated restaurants or wine purveyors in this part of the world. It is an elegant, expensive wine made in the Mâcon region of Burgundy from the Chardonnay grape. Pouilly Fumé is something else altogether, made in the Loire from Sauvignon Blanc. And now here we have before us Pouilly-sur-Loire, which is not some newfangled thing. It’s actually been made for a long time in the Loire, but in much smaller quantities than Pouilly-Fumé, hence the unfamiliarity. Pouilly-sur-Loire is made from the Chasselas grape (although Sauvignon Blanc is permitted as an supplement, although that is not the case with this particular, excellent example). Chasselas, popular in Switzerland, is only grown on 40 hectares in the Loire region, compared to the 1200 hectares devoted to Sauvignon Blanc. The wine it produces is somewhat softer, with less citrusy acidity or trademark gunflint notes than is typical of Pouilly- Fumé. But, as demonstrated by this bottle, made in a winery owned for generations by the prominent Figeat family, until its last patriarch and the local mayor, Paul Figeat, was killed in a tragic 1991 accident, it is delicious and genuinely thirst quenching. Marc Deschamps, a colleague who has modernized the facilities while remaining true to the family ideals, has continued to make the kind of wine that vignerons prize among themselves. It is not for laying down, however. Chasselas ripens early and Pouilly-sur-Loire must be drunk young. At only 12% alcohol, it is ideal for late lunches and informal early evenings. It is great with goat cheese, light pasta, grilled shrimp and white fish. Even better as a change of pace for take-out Chinese or Thai!
Reverdito Langhe Nebbiolo 2014 Simane
Wine can be such a seemingly mysterious world. Even if you decide to splurge $60-$100, say (which, let’s face it, is less today than a pair of many ORDINARY basketball sneakers) on a special date night or occasion, how can you even appreciate the value you’re getting without your palate having evolved somewhat? This excellent bottle can help you do that. It is made from the nebbiolo grape, which produces some of not just Italy’s, but the world’s most incredible, treasured wines, Barolo and Barbaresco. It takes years for the tannic properties of the most illustrious of these to develop— even if remotely available in one’s local shop, you cannot buy them young and immediately pop them open for dinner. They have to be laid away for at least a decade to mature. But the grapes used for Langhe nebbiolo often come from the same vineyards, or just beyond the geographical boundaries of those for the finest Barolos and Barbarescos. The grape really only thrives in Italy’s Piedmont and Lombardy regions. Michele Reverdito and his sister Sabina grew up in the vineyards- but his father saw himself as a farmer, not a winemaker, and always sold his harvest to neighbors. His children released their first vintage in 2000, and each year shows exceeding promise. Their Langhe Nebbiolo could actually be classified as Barolo San Giacomo, but Michele feels the soil, which he works as naturally and biodynamically as possible, contains a little too much clay for a classic Barolo. His choice is our win— this wine, delectably chewy, dark cherry, with licorice and tobacco hints, is, simply, an unbelievable steal at just over $20. Let it be your gateway bottle to the pleasures and riches well beyond this price point. It is fit for truffles, game, and the most elegant, preferably wild, mushroom risotto. This is not just a meal, it is an education.
Château Bois Brinçon Grolleau 83 2013
Loire Valley, France
Robert Parker critics, rejoice! If you’ve always thought his ratings are as reliable as, say, the judgements of certain Supreme Court nominees who’ve been bought by private interest groups, this may be the wine that confirms his palate is full of baloney. He has long bashed Grolleau, a dark grape named after the French word for “crow,” grown in the Loire Valley. It was long used as a main component of Rosé d’Anjou, which once comprised over half the entire production of the Loire Valley’s Anjou region, but whose popularity has coincidentally waned with his diatribes. Parker insists growers should replant with lower yielding and perhaps more expensive Gamay and Cabernet Franc. This bottle should help the resistance strike back! Man the barricades and enjoy the the delicious dark hue that simply clings to the cork of this bottle, letting you know it is naturally produced in the most time-honored way at one of the oldest vineyards in Anjou, dating all the way back to 1219. The château and vines sit alone near the picturesque Blaison-Gohier, a hamlet straddling the tectonic plate dividing ‘black’ Anjou from ‘white’ Anjou on the Loire’s south bank. It has been in the family of Xavier Cailleau since 1891, but during post war difficulties of the 50’s, Cailleau’s grandfather was forced to give up making wine, sell his grape harvest to a local co-op and supplement his income by planting orchards. In 1991, Xavier and his wife Geraldine decided to re-open the cellar and begin winemaking once more from the 1/2 of the chateau’s 44 hectares that were still planted with vines. He has has since acquired other parcels.From inception, Xavier was devoted to organic principles, although official certification was not granted until 2006. This Grolleau is from a single hectare of vines re-planted in 1930, after the estate’s original plantings, survivors of the phylloxera epidemic, were ultimately lost to the great frost of 1928. The “83” here is a tribute to the age of the vines when this bottle’s grapes were harvested. This gorgeous, food friendly, fruit forward wine is light in alcohol (which makes for a perfect summer-to-fall transition) but heavy in history. Do yourself a favor and drink it all in.
Commanderie de la Bargemonne 2017
Yes! There IS a bright side to this hot, completely insufferable climate (literally and otherwise) right here right now. You will rarely have a better, perfectly legitimate excuse to try another phenomenal rosé you might not be so otherwise amenable to immediately treat yourself to. Even for the most parsimonious, now is the appropriate moment to splurge an extra 5 bucks over your budget conscious $11.99 threshold. Get whomever you plan to share it with to go halfsies, it's money better spent than on a subway to anywhere! This pure, natural insanely refreshing libation is so terrific- you will be stunned by the sheer difference between these two price points. This is a handcrafted bottle, not mass market stuff that may suffice for the barbarians at the BBQ who would be just as happy with chugging Bud Light, that may be as unsubtly dyed as our noodnik-in-chief’s combover and can taste as astringent as if it’s been vinified in a tine can. This wine is beautifully aromatic, light peachy and strawberry hinted in color and essence, sustainably grown on a foremost Provence 160 acre estate established by Knights Templar in the 13th century. It is fabulously food friendly. But we also love it for our own little twist on this summer’s hottest drink (according to the New York Times, so you know it must be true), the Aperol Spritz. We switch out the usual recipe’s 3 parts Prosecco with this, add the requisite 2 parts Aperol (now back in stock after flying off every store shelf in Manhattan- see HOT, above) a slice of orange and splash of soda (the Vintage Seltzer Mandarin flavor at Frank’s is particularly nice and often on sale). You can call it the VOP spritz and serve it to every VIP in your book. We also love it in the lighter margarita we love to make by the pitcher in summer- substitute it for one part tequila, and top off with a bit of fizzy Pellegrino instead of seltzer, should you really want to splash out. Do it now!
Zantho Zweigelt 2016
We don’t want to ruin the lasting surprise we enjoyed upon slitting the foil on this interesting bottle, so we will leave you to discover and delight in this really nifty innovation yourself. But even better, this superb Austrian red is even more interesting than its pioneering package. Austrian red, you say? Most of us were probably unaware that wine of note other than incandescent Grüner Veltiner, which actually comes from the same region, is even produced in Austria. But Burgenland is at the easternmost part of the country, next to Slovakia and Hungary, where good red wines have long been made, if not widely available beyond Eastern Europe, during centuries of political strife. Never mind that the original name, Rotburger, given to this hybrid of two other indigenous grapes, St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch by Fritz Zweigelt in 1922, does not exactly roll mellifluously off the tongues of English speakers…. But in a country where 1/3 of the vineyards are now devoted to non-white production, this is actually the favorite red. The village of Andau, first noted as Zantho in 1488, is a hot region with gravelly iron and mineral rich terroir that is the perfect habitat for red grapes, as well as a rare woodland lizard. Give this a bit of breathing time to fully experience the cranberry cinnamon succulence of this spicy red. It is perfect for these dreary rainy days we wait for summer to reappear. But it is also, speaking of cranberry, a great partner and value for Thanksgiving fare. You may want to start thinking ahead!
COTES DU RHONE ROSE
Domaine Les Aphillantes 2017 Côte-du-Rhône Rosé
Southern Rhone, France
Another rosé knock out you must absolutely try this summer! The Southern Rhône leads the way to Provence’s olive groves, sunshine and Impressionist summers. The warm climate, low rainfall and small yields derived from the small stone or galet strewn fields, is responsible for fruity, spicy wines that are, unlike the more dry, austere products of Bordeaux, amazingly refreshing this time of year. Daniel Boulle’s roots in the area are as deep as his vines, many of which are more than 30 meters underground. He is the fourth generation of a family of growers that once sent all of its fruits to a local commune. He has expanded beyond the original 10 hectares he inherited, and devoted the operation to biodynamic, organic winemaking with minimal intervention. Wine is fermented in concrete vats, and moved solely by gravity. Boulles caters to no local trends or commercial fads, guided solely by his impeccable taste. For those to whom such things matter, Robert Parker has called his estate one of the finest in the Southern Rhône. But let your own palate be your guide to this exquisite, effervescent varietal blend (50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, 7% Mourvèdre, 3% Counoise). This rosé is really special.
CELESTIAL GAMAY FROM A LITER!
Coteaux Bourguignons Dominique Piron 2016
You may have noticed you rarely find bottles labelled simply as Beaujolais any more, if at all. For that we can thank the Beaujolais Nouveau mishagoss- that has unfortunately grown, in recent years, from a once cute promotional stunt for a once only locally appreciated wine to the raison-de-etre for flooding the world with far too much truly awful plonk every November. Which is too bad, as you realize when you have the opportunity to savor the wonderful, fresh expression of the gamay grape of the 10 finest crus, of which Morgon may be one of the best. And the Côte du Py, an ancient blue volcanic hill at the heart of the village, has long been considered its finest terroir. Dominique Piron is the 14th generation of a family that has been wresting the profound mysteries of the low cropped vines and sheer granite for centuries. This wine is structured well enough to lay down, but it is especially delicious, fresh and spicy right now. One sniff of the the aromatic fruit and earthy minerals, and you will be instantly transported to a sunny French afternoon. Absolutely fantastic for summer drinking, this bottle is pure pleasure.
SANCERRE FOR SUMMER
Domaine Serge Laloue Sancerre 2017
Loire Valley, France
Why is Sancerre so much more elegant, refreshing, delicious (and a little more pricey- though worth it-as this bottle so beautifully demonstrates) than the average Sauvignon Blanc- which is after all, made from the same grape variety? Sancerre, which can only be 100% Sauvignon Blanc, is an appellation in the Loire Valley, the geographical middle of France, and the historical center of French resistance from the days of the Huguenots to WWII. But what makes the difference in the wine produced there is not only the fierce independence of its people, but the terroir of the area’s slopes—stony and limestone based at the midpoint, which leads to early grape ripening, and siliceous clay at the top. This gives the wines a particularly mineral, flinty note— unlike the grassiness this wild grape exhibits elsewhere. Sancerre is also never oaked— which lets this distinctive terroir star, rather than be smothered. Serge Laloue’s parents began growing tobacco, grain and grapes at their family farm in the 1930’s and selling wine made there at a small café they owned in the village of Thauvenay. In 1960, their son Serge returned home to help with the harvest and never left, having decided to prioritize and restructure his clan’s wine making business and devote its holdings, to which he began adding, parcel by parcel, solely to vineyards. The operation is now run by his son and daughter, who are equally determined to pursue his philosophy of sustainable agriculture and non- chemically interfered with wines. This wine, with its peach and melon nose and stony tenacity, is particularly fantastic in summer. It is absolutely delicious with goat cheese and whatever lighter fare you can stomach on the doggiest of days.
PECORINO BIANCO-NOT CHEESE?
Feudo Antico Terre di Chieti
Pecorino is not just a delicious cheese, it is also the name of an indigenous, once considered minor Italian varietal that barely known beyond local boundaries. This terrific, style and character laden organic white may very well change that. Feudo Antico was started in 2004 by winemakers with generations of experience, devoted to reviving native crops and protecting the local environment of their native Abruzzo. Pecorino had fallen out of cultivation largely because its low yields were not highly profitable to the less talented or highly trained. The producers considered it a good omen when they immediately discovered, during planting of new vineyards in the clay hillside and humble San Pietro farmhouse just purchased for their facility, the ruins of a nearly 2,000 year old Roman villa, complete with terra-cotta wine containers or “dolia.” The Abruzzo Office of Archeaological Heritage rushed to help excavate and catalogue the site, soon declaring it the oldest example of a rural Roman villa where large-scale organized farming devoted to the cultivation of vines was established. This is now the smallest DOC wine in Italy- and each bottle reflects its incredible history and the future Feudo Antico hopes to create by educating and employing the youth of Abruzzo to cultivate their unique climate, culture and soil. The result is fresh, floral, mineral finished and fantastically priced. It is perfect for summer and pairs as beautifully as you might suspect with hard cheeses such as its namesake, light pasta and seafood. And knowing that such gems exist, you may never be able to settle for a glass of insipid Pinot Grigio again in anything other than a famine or emergency.
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAIN PINOT NOIR
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands
Pinot Noir 2015 River Road Vineyard
There is a legendary story about how Gary Pisoni, Santa Lucia Highlands’ pioneering and prominent winemaker convinced his father to plant wine grapes on the family farm in 1982, asking him if he’d ever been invited to a “$250 lettuce tasting.” And so began the transformation of a once humble sleepy area at the foothills of the Santa Lucia Range, about 15 miles southwest of Monterey Bay into the lode for California’s premium Pinot Noirs. The Salinas Valley below is still lettuce country, but Spanish missionaries grew grapes in the highlands in the late 18th century, and Pisoni could not help but note the success of his neighbors Rich and Claudia Smith, whose Paraiso Vineyards became the area’s first modern facility in 1973. Pisoni and a high school friend, Gary Franscioni, who have since acquired several vineyards which also provide fruit for some of the region’s highest end boutiques, have harnessed the fog influenced microclimates and varying granitic terroirs to quickly establish their now formidable reputations and encouraged an entire generation of artisans making exceptional, stylistically unique wines. Richer and more alcohol laden than those of Santa Barbara, Sonoma or the Santa Cruz due to later harvests well above the coast, a briny, ocean-breeze derived salinity provides the necessary for great, exciting wines. These are anything but soporific fruit bombs. And while many vintages from the various vineyards are collector’s items only, this particular bottling, a silky yet chewy, cherry, plum tobacco tannin infused offering, is a rare affordable pleasure— particularly for a summer red. It is simply delicious. Grab it while you can.
Château de Pourceiux Blanc
Cotes de Provence, France 2017
This wonderful bottle captures all of the magic, beauty and delicate perfume of Provence. Built on Roman ruins, the formidable chateau, where wine has been made for centuries, built on Roman ruins, has belonged to the family of the Marquis d’ Espagnet, since the 1700s. Its 62 acres of sloped, southern-exposed vineyards nestle between the mountain ranges of the Monts Auréliens and Cézanne’s preferred subjects, the Sante-Victoire. In 1993, the chateau was designated a Historic Monument. But although winery still uses 18th century vats still located in the cellar. this wine is anything but an ancient artifact. Under the direction of Michel d’Espagnet, who has headed the family’s operation since 1986, it breathes with fresh, modern vitality. The yield is limited and only organic, chemical free fertilizer is used on vines that spring from terroir that is sandstone and clay. Perhaps that imbues the wine with a ripe, melon-y sense of pinkishness- you might almost swear, despite your own eyes, that you are sipping a rosé. The 2017 vintage is particularly delightful. This is a perfect summer weekend wine, which will immediately evoke fields of sunflowers, aromas of lavender and the essence of country village charm.
ROUSSANNE FROM THE NORTH
Jeanne Gaillard Roussanne 2015
Northern Rhone, France
Oh lucky day! We are still raving about Pierre Gaillaird’s Croze- Hermitage 2015, and what falls into our hands? A beautiful white wine from his very talented daughter (who, legend has it, was first sent to work in the vineyards as a child as punishment for some misdeed and found it pure passion, rather than penance). By the time she was 24, she had studied wine making and business in Beaune, worked for a Burgundy estate and a California winery, and come into a total of 13 hectares of her own in Crozes-Hermitage and Collines Rhodiannes. Ten years on, she has firmly developed a formidable reputation of her own.This Roussanne is a great example of how she has earned it. Roussane- which means russet in French, is a reddish gold grape which is one of the rare grape varieties permitted in certain red and white wines in France. It is traditionally blended with Marsanne in Northern Rhone whites such as Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph and elsewhere and is a familiar component of Chateuneuf-du-Pape. It is sometimes confused with Viognier— both have a rich, spicy, somewhat apricot tone. But Roussanne can provide, as this bottle demonstrates so amply, an intense experience all its own, reflecting the handpicked harvest and mineral fine sand and granite of ifs Massif Central terroir. It is worth buying just to marvel at its gorgeous honey color alone. But it drinks as beautifully, aromatically, elegantly and roundly as it looks. It will age well for another five or six years, but why wait? Right now, it has a fresh, glorious bite all its own. A prize!
5/2/18 SYRAH BEYOND
Pierre Gaillard Crozes-Hermitage
Northern Rhone Valley, France
Spoiler Alert! Spoil yourself- or mom, if you think she’s worth it- with this delicious treasure from feisty adventurer Pierre Gaillard. At 12, Gaillard was caught plowing a neighbor’s parcel with a horse. After earning an oenology degree from the prestigious institute in Montpellier, establishing his career at Vidal Fleury before setting out on his own in 1985, he is now acclaimed as one of Northern Rhone’s finest winemakers. The 2015 vintage has been highly praised— and this bottle may become even more interesting and valuable after being laid down for a few years. But if you are really itching for an immediate treat, this bracing expression of unmanipulated, gently caressed (as opposed to over casked) cold macerated cherry fruit can be drunk young and now. You must, however, be prepared to open it up and really let it breathe— the better part of a day wouldn’t hurt. You may want to siphon off a thimbleful just so you can appreciate what an extraordinary difference a little tenderness and some time will make. The result will pay off in a joyous gustatory revelation you may be hard pressed to find at this price point now or ever. Grab this. It’s worth it.
4/16/18 Toscana Rosso
Lagone Aia Vecchia Toscana 2016
File Under: There’s Always a Bright Side. If we’re going to be swamped instead of allowed to enjoy what by all rights should be the glory of spring (please, it’s taking longer to deliver than Mueller’s investigation : ) we might as well drown our misery in decent, affordable style! Generations of the Pellegrini family have been devoted to wine. In 1996, they purchased unusual hillside property in the Bolgheri DOC to create small batch, fine quality Super Tuscan blends made from special rootstocks from Bordeaux, as opposed to indigenous varieties, in a perfect elevation and micro-climate for premium grapes. Under the supervision of Hungarian winemaking legend Tibor Gal, they released the first Lagone vintage in 1998. This interesting combination of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc has only continued to garner kudos since. Recently rated a whopping 94 by Decanter, this deep ruby potion revels in its French oak provenance, cherry, cassis, and licorice notes. Fantastic with red and white meat, perfect with pasta and/or cheese. More elegant and structured than many a chianti or Sangiovese— particularly at this price. You may also want to compare it with some of your everyday Bordeaux.. An easy drinking, terrific change of pace and phenomenal value. Mix up some minestrone and you’ll be happy ’til the sun shines again.
3/29/18 THE RHONE PARADOXE
Château Mas Neuf Rhône Paradoxe Blanc 2016
Costerie Nimes, Rhone Valley, France
This sturdy, simply delicious, incredibly affordable white from France is worth celebrating all on its own— but it pairs so beautifully with ham, it’s a hands-down choice for a memorable Easter dinner. It’s also wonderful with seafood, goat and sheep cheese, white sauced pasta- the possibilities are endless and we can’t wait to experiment further. This is definitely one of the freshest discoveries of the year. Grenache Blanc and Roussanne have rarely been blended so spritely and exquisitely at this price. But that it is not the paradox to which its name refers. Château Mas Neuf occupies an unusual geographical position. Half way up the Costiéres de Nîmes’ southern side, it receives similar sun as Languedoc and Provence and warm Mediterranean sea breezes, but the cool night and early morning dew are not found in the further inland portion of the Rhône Valley. The difference is immediately expressed in the grapes, which are tended as organically as possible, and the resulting style of wine. It is young, yet refined— a perfect way to greet the holiday and the season. It is truly spring in a bottle. Enjoy!
3/20/18 bistro pinot noir
L'Agnostique Pinot Noir 2016
A funny thing happened after drinking that Domaines Des Chavaliers a week or so ago. We raved about it then and we just can’t stop raving. Don’t make us stop! It overwhelmed us with an unconcontrollable desire to find more phenomenal Pinot Noir, though unfortunately, that dry, elegant class act from Burgundy may have spoiled us. We only realize how amazing it is at a $27 price point when we have been unable to find anything that comes ANYWHERE close in a similar range. In the process, though, we tried a lot of currently available Pinot Noirs. And although L'Agnostique is rather different in style, and we think of it as more of a fun warmer weather wine (and we are desperate for some warmer weather with which to enjoy it), it was an obvious stand out.. It’s made somewhat more like a modern West Coast Pinot Noir— more sugar and somewhat softer—so it may very well appeal to fans of that approach— and is a great value in comparison. This is an incredibly food friendly, bistro-styled Pinot Noir, sourced from northern Languedoc, near the Puy de Dôme, the highest volcano in the Chain des Puys. In addition to embodying the volcanic terroir, the vines are buffeted by the omnipresent Mediterranean wind, which keeps them healthy and aerated. “L’Agnostique” means skeptic—which typifies the brand owners’ (whose first release was a cheeky blend of Gamay and Syrah. This 100% Pinot Noir, overseen by.Fréderic Maignet, chief winemaker for a famed Beaujolais château, is not quite as outrageous. It is just fun, young, yummy and unfussy, perfect for bistro staples onion soup, croque monsieur and roast chicken or good old American standbys from grilled cheese to burgers.
3/8/18 CLASSIC BOURGOGNE PINOT NOIR
Domaine de Chevalier Pere & fils
Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2014
It is always such a singular pleasure to confront and contemplate a classic, well defined glass of Burgundy like this one, made of 100% Pinot Noir, one almost wonders what one has been doing opening anything else for a subtle end of day pick-me-up with a handful of grapes. nibble of cheese and cracker or two, preparing to cozy up and ignore all storms- of nature and otherwise- beyond the confines of hearth (or toaster oven, as the case may very well be) and home. This estate, inherited after WWI, ranging over two medieval hamlets, one of which once housed the Hospices de Beaune, by Marcelle Dubois, his daughter and son-in-law Emile Chevalier. By 1959. Emile’s son Georges began bottling all harvests of the increasingly prestigious property, and in 1975, Georges’ son Claude continued to expand, increasing its size to 226 hectares, and upgrading both the vineyard’s working methods and vilification process. At the northern tip of the Côte de Beaune and edge of the Côte de Nuits, the estate occupies a rare position and glorious southeastern exposure. The wine is bottled after September’s harvest, and vinified traditionally in temperature controlled vats for 10 days before 10 months of maturation in oak bottles. The result is light, earthy and well structured, with an utterly relaxing, supremely easy drinking peppery cherry cassis bouquet. And it’s so very versatile— try it with salads, chicken (particularly in pot pie), meat or vegetarian stew— as well as reliable. Definitely worth keeping a couple of bottles on hand in the event of company. It will make the most unexpected guest more than welcome.
3/2/18 and the winner is......
With great balance between fruit and acidity, notes of citrus and green apple are featured in this crisp and mineral, easy-drinking white wine. Although terrific on its own, it will pair especially well with oysters, sushi, salads, asparagus, spicy foods and fried foods. In German, Lustig means “funny, merry, happy, jaunty.” With an easy-to-pop crown-cap closure and a full liter of wine in each bottle, this is a great wine to drink with friends or whomever as we agree or disagree with the Oscar winners!
2/23/18 dalmatian nectar
Croatia’s Dalmatian coast is literally just a hop, skip or sail, as the case may be, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. It would be surprising if wine was NOT made there. And it has been, from local grapes, since Greek settlers were established by the 5th century BC. The Romans continued suit, and celebrated the god Bacchus with a temple that remains on the northern coast of Istria. The Roman influence is also seen in the north where a hill named Mons Claudius honored the many vineyards planted for the Emperor. Christianity spread through Croatia, as throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, but when the Ottomans conquered, Muslim law made exemptions for sacramental wines. Should one doubt the seriousness of such rules, there is even a 1407 statue standing in Korcula that warns landholders who neglect their vineyards will be punished with not only loss of their profits, but their right hands! But by the late 19th century, the Phylloxera that devastated Europe destroyed what wine industry there was in Croatia. And Word War II, which created Yugoslavia, followed by the horrific ethnic politics that subsequently ripped it apart, determined that if any wine was indeed made, it was not going to travel far. Which is too bad, because judging from the excellent wines that have been appearing on the international market since the end of the most recent strife and Croatia’s 1991 declaration of independence, there is an incredible bounty of tremendous values, particularly made from hitherto unfamiliar indigenous grapes. One of these is Plavina, which has helped, along with the introduction of modern technology and EU- conforming style and quality regulations, to account for Croatia’s current rank of 30th among wine producing countries. White wines predominate in the North, but Plavina is considered Croatia’s most underrated coastal red grape, with unique characteristics that differentiate it from both local varietals and the more familiar Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Barbera and Syrah now cultivated to both blend and stand alone. This fresh, handpicked and barely filtered Plavina, grown in the warm climate and rocky soils facing the Adriatic, could almost be mistaken for an Italian country wine. It is pure juiciness, bursting red berries with lively acidity, solid tannins, a hint of chocolate and cigar, and natural earthy terroir. Try this versatile find in place of your usual Italian red pasta and pizza accompaniment or whatever makes you toss a coin between Malbec and Cabernet. It’s slightly lighter in alcohol and so easily quaffable, you may want to spring for two bottles off the bat— the first has a mysterious tendency to suddenly disappear!
2/15/18 ambrosial ribera!
Ansejo & Manso Joven
Ribera del Duero
With just one sip of this superbly balanced value-priced bottle, you realize that despite the unfamiliarity of this merely thirteen year old Bodega, the wine could not possibly be made by a neophyte or clever marketer who’s retired from a career minting money to indulge in a bucket list vineyard fantasy. It was only in 2004 that Jésus Asenjo was encouraged to estate bottle fruit his family has been growing for 110 years. His grandfather, Tiofilo, planted what are considered some of the finest vines in the region, and he has spent his life in the vineyards and continues to tend them himself year round. He is helped by a talented young woman, Natalia Calleja, a former lab technician he soon promoted to head winemaker. The production is organic, and everything about this bottle feels fresh and unfussy, musty or dark, as so many traditional and sometimes off-putting Spanish products can be. “Joven,” as many in this hood are well aware, means young in Spanish.This wine is produced in a small quantity from a combination of this tiny village estate’s best and youngest fruit from bush-trained vines planted in clay soil. Fermentation uses only natural yeast, and after stainless steel tank fermentation, it spends just three months (another reason for the “young” appellation)in a combination of French and American oak barrels. Ms. Calleja’s talent is obvious in a unique, lively, fruity cherry, plum juice that is particularly refreshing for fall. Drink this instead of over-hyped, mass-market Beaujolais— it is a fabulous accompaniment for food- especially anything with garlic! We drank it with an improvised crostini we threw together the other night, rubbing a clove and dribbling all over toasted whole wheat sourdough Bread Alone peasant bread from Frank's, topped with a little bubbling crispy mozzarella,. cherry tomato and fresh basil. Trust us, it was AMBROSIAL.This would work wonders with roast chicken, store bought pizza, burgers, pasta, you name it. Really a treat at an unbeatable price.
2/14/18 valntines day sparkling rose
Antech Cremant de Limoux Émotion 2014
If you are searching for a way to put some fizz- figurative and literal- into your Valentine’s Day, stop right now. As much as we adore both great champagne and great rosé (and have always been willing to splurge for either) we have cottoned to the mere idea of pink bubbly as much as well, cotton candy (now that we have to pay to fill our own cavities, among other things). So, truth be told, we were probably more skeptical than anyone else will ever have a right to be when this was first proffered as a decent libation, never mind a holiday toast. We are still laughing at ourselves. This would be a terrific bottle even without the bubbles— but it is really one of the best, as well as most unassuming, sparkling wines from any country we have ever had the pleasure to sip.
Wine historians, in fact, believe that the world’s first sparkling wine was produced here, in the Languedoc-Rousillon, in (some say 1531, others 1544),before Dom Perignon, by monks at Saint-Hilaire’s abbey, rather than in the Champagne region, which has, of course, usurped not only the “méthode champenois,” but the huge fortunes made as a result of convincing the French government to insist that nothing in world made beyond its specific, relatively small geographical limits can be labelled as such.
But perhaps being slightly out of “official” bounds has allowed six generations of this family- now headed by a formidable daughter, Françoise, to develop its own unusual blend that until now has remained a pretty well kept wine insiders’ secret. “Émotion,” just one of the family’s superb wines, marries the very different combination of hand-harvested Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac and Pinot Noir for AOC Cremant de Limoux in the traditional method to create a just beautifully beaded, pale pink, dry floral arrangement of delicate strawberry/cherry hints. Elegant, crisp- you will absolutely not believe that anything this excellent is available for even half the price of Champagne. There may be no going back for us- never mind Valentine’s, this is going right into the running for all future celebrations, up to and including New Year’s. A great choice for picnicking, too, it is an out-of-this- world aperitif and perfect pair for fresh spring/summer salads as well as sashimi, Chinese or Thai any time of year. This is better than chocolate! (Though it works well with that, too). Be your own valentine. Émotion will reward you- and/or those you love- with a most charming little kiss.
2/9/18 barbera d'asti
Barbera de Asti 2016
Have we previously noted that with one VERY rare exception (a funky bottle of a fairly odd orange wine), we have NEVER, over the course of decades, been disappointed with any bottle bearing the imprimatur of Neal Rosenthal? We were really pleased, as we may have mentioned, reading the NYT’s Eric Asimov’s lovely memoir recently, to discover that Rosenthal’s personal guidance and sensibilities regarding biodynamic, terroir-reflective cultivation and handcrafted traditions (as opposed to merchandising “brands”) were fundamental to Asimov’s formidable professional palate and ideas regarding the sheer enjoyment of wine as food. And despite Rosenthal’s career-making discoveries in the villages of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, his import business actually began with two Piedmont growers. One of them was the Anfosso family, with whom he released his very first vintage in 1978. Descendants of DeForvilles who left their native Belgium in 1848, the fifth generation is represented by Valter and Paolo Anfosso. Unlike their early DeForville ancestors, who sold bulk wine directly to restaurants and retailers who bottled it, the entire production is now bottled, which occasionally includes purchases from neighboring communes, at the estate. Since the first go in 1940, the output has grown to about 100,000 bottles a year. The grapes are all hand harvested, and the reds vilified traditionally, fermented on the skins, and bottled 18-20 months from harvest, as regulations demand and the result tastes anything but mass-produced. It is a simply stunning deep purplish red, with an equally deep concentration of red plum and dark cherry flavor. It is vibrantly complex, smooth and delicious, especially if one does not jump the gun and allows it breathe generously before serving. Some pundits will insist it pairs best with game, but please, don’t rush to Fort Tryon to shoot the pigeons. It’s fantastic with practically any Italian dish, particularly red-sauced, you can dream of, as well as roast chicken, meatloaf, burgers, whatever tickles your fancy. It is simply too good, particularly at this reasonable price, to pass up.
2/2/18 the press
Super Bowl Spectacular!
H.A. Oswald Family
The Press Chardonnay
With all that is going on in our country today, it is understandable that one tragedy has become overlooked. Which is that far too many Americans have become brainwashed into believing that no matter what their feelings about football, it is their duty to serve and consume some of the worst combinations of junk food and pissy drink on Super Bowl Sunday. RESIST! And in order to lead the way, we suggest a Chardonnay that celebrates all that is great about this land, our land’s native terroir and pioneer spirit. Husch Vineyards, planted in 1968, was, with its initial releases in 1971, the first bonded winery in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, the northernmost part of California’s ever more impressive wine growing region. In 1979, grape growing neighbors, the H.A. Oswald family bought the winey from Tony and Gretchen Husch. Today the original 21 acre Husch Vineyard is planted to spectacularly well received Pinto Noir, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay, and warmer climate grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscat and some Chardonnay are grown on the Ukiah Valley’s Russian River in the La Ribera Vineyards. The family run operation is now in the hands of the third generation— which includes Zac Robinson, who sold his Silicon Valley start up, “Ask Jeeves” in order to devote himself to the organic, handcrafted wines his Grandpa Oz insisted be worthy of not only sharing with the world (as they were at some notable Reagan state dinners) but his neighbors. And this bottle, a limited pressing of Chardonnay from both vineyards, is a tart masterpiece of sophisticated bright flavor with just the right finishing dab of buttery oak. It is fabulous with all kinds of dishes, from cheese to chicken. But if you’re going just the nosh route this weekend, pair this with a fresh roasted eggplant dip. Just one toast will make everyone a winner.
1/29/18 biodynamic cotes du rhone
Domaine de Joncier L'O de Joncier 2016
Southern Rhone Valley, France
This scrumptious biodynamic Grenache (with 2% Cinsault) would be a great treat at a much higher price point— for under $17, it is simply impossible to refuse! The legendary importer Kermit Lynch has outdone himself with this fabulous find from an impressive female winemaker, Marine Roussel, who had a successful career as a graphic artist in Paris before taking over the domaine her agronomist father Pierre established in 1964. This fresh, spicy cherry-tinged ambrosia, which should be served slightly chilled to fully appreciate, just bursts with her unique verve and hand-harvested organic style. A wonderful pick-me-up that truly feels like spring in a bottle. No lover of happy surprises from France should pass this one by.