‘Serious’ Beaujolais from Joseph Drouhin

For even as long as we have been in the wine game, we can still get surprised.  Perhaps not as often, mind you, mind you, but it still happens. Last year we reported on the inaugural releases for the new Beaujolais project from Burgundy powerhouse Joseph Drouhin. Given the wines success in that that opening offer, we were anxious to see where the path lead, particularly given the fact that Drouhin’s next releases were from the amazing 2015 vintage.

Last go around with Drouhin, however, we ran across something we had never seen before, three site-designated Cru Beaujolais.  As always, we check the stuff out.  It’s our job, but we really didn’t know anything about these wines and had no expectations back then. There’s a pretty cool story to go along with these classy Beaujolais.

The Hospices de Belleville (a hospital) opened in 1773 to take care of the poor and the sick in the region.  The Hôtel-Dieu of Belleville benefited right from its construction from charitable donations from generous benefactors hoping for the salvation of their souls (kind of like the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy). Today, the hospital has retained ownership of the 14 hectares of vineyards across Fleurie, Brouilly, and Morgon.  As of the 2014 vintage, the Hospices has entrusted Maison Joseph Drouhin with the production and the marketing of their wines under their name “Hospices de Belleville.”

After last year’s fantastic opening salvo we were most excited to see what we got in a critically acclaimed vintage like 2015.  The 2014s as a group impressed, got good reviews, and generally hit all the right buttons.  We found the 2015s to be pretty remarkable as well, but not necessarily what we expected stylistically.  In a vintage that was generally about as subtle as a strumpet, the Drouhin versions came off more like great Burgundy with refined structure and perfectly measured fruit.

If you are looking for something gregarious to drink in the short-term, that is a somewhat different matter.   If instead you are looking for something that you can cellar and pull out down the road that emulates the structure and complexity of a fine Burgundy, and didn’t cost you a small fortune, this one plays that hand beautifully.

We first tasted this wine several months ago and our impression at the time was that this one had ‘all the right stuff.’  But our feeling was that, from the standpoint of marketing, this one was going to be much better with a little time in the bottle.  It is interesting to note that the reviews for this wine, from people who aren’t necessarily inclined to pass out big scores, spanned nearly a year (December, 2016, April, 2017, and December 2017) and were noticeably better at each juncture.

Once again the talents of the Drouhin team and this very special dirt combined to make something very special.  We chose to focus specifically this time on the Joseph Drouhin Fleurie Hospices de Belleville 2015.  Drouhin has done Belleville proud again here, and the Fleurie expresses the individual terroir of this Beaujolais Cru.  All the wines are crafted in a Burgundian style, using 500 liter barrels and only a small amount of carbonically macerated fruit.  The Fleurie comes from three separate parcels owned by the Hospices totaling 6.4 hectares.

There seems to be a rare accord among the critics with regard to the Drouhin wines in general, and the Joseph Drouhin Fleurie Hospices de Belleville 2015 in particular.  James Suckling was concise, “ This is very linear and refined with beautiful tannins and minerality. Medium-bodied, very pretty and focused. Tight and polished. Serious… 93 points”

From Alan Meadows, aka Burghound,”A similar if slightly more elegant nose that is a bit spicier if less earthy introduces notably finer middle weight flavors that possess a velvety texture before terminating in an impressively persistent finish. This is really very good and a wine that could be enjoyed young or aged for a few years to good effect…92 points ♥” (the ♥ is an extra ‘bonus’ tout from Burghound for wines with a special appeal).

Finally, from last December, Vinous’ Josh Raynolds offered, “Vivid ruby. Very fresh and expressive on the nose, offering intense cherry and red berry liqueur qualities and a smoky mineral overtone. Shows very good freshness and thrust on the palate; vivacious raspberry and bitter cherry flavors become sweeter on the back half. Displays excellent clarity and delineation and closes long and sweet, featuring lingering red fruit character and harmonious tannins…92 points.”

The testimony is voluminous, the promise of this nascent project clear, and the potential of this particular bottling for both the glass and the cellar clearly evident.

 

 

 

 

 

PORT REPORT: 2016s SHOWING STYLE

It has been a few vintages since we had a widely declared vintage in Oporto.  But the 2016s are coming to market by the end of the year and we had the opportunity to taste a good cross-section of top labels.  As to the vintage profile, every vintage is unique and doesn’t necessarily directly compare to other vintages.  In the case of 2016, there is one similarity to 2011 in that the crop was very small, even a little smaller than ’11.

Our first question was what vintages does 2016 compare to, specifically to our modern benchmarks in 2011 and 1994?  The answer from , the , was that 1994 was bigger and more powerful and 2011 was softer and more overtly fruit-driven.  The 2016s have plenty of punch, by all measures.  But they have uncommon purity and more lift than either of the aforementioned vintages.  Penetrating without being cumbersome, we don’t recall a vintage where the personalities of the various vineyards were more on display and where the stylistic differences between them were so easily discerned.

A little more restrained out of the gate than most of the modern vintages we can recall, the wines have a certain freshness and bounce on the palate and we don’t recall making the comment about any of them being too ‘spirity’.  It is definitely a vintage for Port aficionados to pay attention to as they are not only distinctive but definitely different from anything you have.  We will be making prearrival offers as they become available but this is a vintage to pay attention too.  Below are some quick notes on what we tasted.

QUINTA DO RORIZ 2016: This one demonstrated that Port doesn’t have to be ponderous or super sweet to make an impression.  We’ll guess the media reviews from the usual Port ‘scrum’ tasting will not favor the more delicate style, but one-on-one it is a delightful, elegant, very precise rendition of the  genre.  Blueberries, notes of spice, this can be best described as the prettier side of Oporto, full of true fruit flavors but also sleek and elegant.   

 SMITH WOODHOUSE 2016: This often gets overlooked because the name doesn’t carry the same weight as some of the other houses in the marketplace.  There is plenty of stuffing here in a more compact style that accents black raspberry and lifted spice notes.  Neal Martin in the review of the 2011 called Smith Woodhouse ‘perpetually underrated’ which helps keep it as one of the better values in top-tier vintage Port.

GRAHAM’S 2016: This is Graham’s.  Expressive, crowd pleasing, on the plusher end of the spectrum and overtly fruit driven and suppler on the palate among the usual suspects.  Arguably the easiest to drink among this outstanding group, that is merely the Graham profile.  It will likely be among the declared stars of the vintage for its gushing display of blackberry, clove, spice and dark cherry.

COCKBURN’S 2016: The 1983 Cockburn was a benchmark among the greatest Ports we sold over the last three decades, after which you didn’t really hear much about them.  While we didn’t get much of an opportunity to explore the highly reviewed 2011, our first impression of this one was, “wow, this calls to mind that 1983.”  People remarked with the 2011 that ‘Cockburn is back’, and it certainly seems to be.  This has size but also elegance and sits nicely on the palate with loads of pleasing berry, date and spice character remaining light on its feet at all times.

DOW’S 2016: We would not be surprised if this one was once again the ‘critics choice’ among this admirable assortment.  The 2011 was Spectator wine of the year and, stylistically, probably is closest to what most people’s ideal Port is supposed to taste like. Big dark fruits, perhaps more exotic spice notes in the profile, maybe even a little blood, this is impressive for both its power and harmony. Like Cockburn, Dow seems at the top of their game.

QUINTA DO VESUVIO 2016:  This has been a house favorite since the beginning and, even though it didn’t necessarily get the biggest reviews, the 1994 was a legend in our minds.  This single vineyard bottling has a different program that your more famous labels because it is a single quinta. So they bottle something in most vintages rather than 2-3 times per decade like a typical vintage Port. Moderately weighty, super pure, penetrating blueberry fruit with flecks of minerality and a whiff of pepper, this isn’t the biggest or the ripest port on the list but it is one of the most distinctive.

GRAHAM’S THE STONE TERRACES 2016: Given our experience in Chateauneuf where many of the ‘reserve’ bottling were created at the expense of the ‘traditional’ cuvees.  Doesn’t seem to be the case here as the regular Graham’s is quite good.  The Stone Terraces was started in 2011 as a specific cuvee sourced from two hillside terraced plots that dated to the 18th Century.  A bit more reticent than the ‘regular’ cuvee with deep, polished fruit tones, lovely texture and an almost haunting purity, you’ve got black fruits, mineral, and a violet component that bring the drama.  Very limited.

 QUINTA DO VESUVIO CAPELA 2016: Same idea as the ‘Terraces’, Capela is a special cuvee created primarily from a single parcel in the ‘Vale de Escola’ part of the Vesuvio holdings.  This cuvee dates all the way back to 2007, making this one the third installment of this Touriga Nacional dominated wine.  They only make this in top vintages.  There is plenty of authority to the intense blackberry fruit and a finishing kick of citrus and mineral, and we suspect the press will hurl a lot of superlatives at this one, particularly since the production is so miniscule.

 

 

KEENAN CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVE SPRING MTN 2014

In a ‘brave new world’ that seems overly focused on the new producer and the breakout category, it seems sometimes it’s a disadvantage to have any kind of history.  Talk about some entity that is making orange wine or early harvest Mourvedre and there seems to be a waiting cadre of folks willing to give them a look.  Talk about a proven Napa Valley label that has been around for more than three decades and you are likely to get blank stares.  But just because someone has been around a while doesn’t mean they are no longer relevant.

The history of Keenan Winery started over 40 years ago. Certain that mountain side vineyards in Napa Valley could produce world-class wines, in 1974 Robert Keenan purchased 180 acres in the Spring Mountain District at an elevation of 1700 feet. Located on the eastern slope of the Mayacamas mountain range, Spring Mountain District gained recognition as an American Vineyard Appellation (AVA) in 1993. The low vigor soils unique to the region were known to create a stressful environment for vine growth, setting up perfect conditions to encourage vineyards planted on the steep, rocky, mountainsides to produce wines of great concentration, structure, and pure varietal flavors.

The original acreage Robert acquired included the crumbling Peter Conradi Winery, founded in the late 19th Century and one of the first pioneering properties established on Spring Mountain. By the time Robert Keenan  arrived in 1974, none of the estate’s original vineyards were producing. Robert cleared the estate of tree stumps and rocks, extended the original vineyard acreage and replanted the property to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. He built a new winery using the existing stone walls from the old Conradi building, and celebrated Keenan Winery’s first harvest there in 1977.

Robert’s son Michael took the reins in 1998 with a vision of moving the property up the quality ladder.  While those early Keenan wines were respected, many of them were ferociously tannic.  A slow deliberate process of trial and error, including the replanting of clones and the incorporation of a solar-powered system and sustainable farming (Keenan is now recognized as a ‘green’ winery) has helped the winery take the steps necessary to elevate their game and make some of the best wines in the winery’s history.

It has been interesting to watch the winery get more critical recognition as a result of this multitude of changes under the watchful, and arguably rather intense eye of Michael.  It has been clear every year when we do the tasting with him that the wines are more intense, better balanced and more refined within the context of ample, burly mountain reds.  Better grapes, better wine and every aspect is carefully watched in the process.  The result has been a Keenan lineup that I playing at a high level but has remained true to their vision of the Spring Mountain as an identifiable and important terroir of the Napa Valley.

The last lineup we were presented was arguably the best yet, but the star of the show was the Robert Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Spring Mountain 2014.  This is serious ‘mountain’ Cabernet with all of the power, depth and flavor intensity that the description implies.  Lots of dark cassis and other blue fruits highlighted with notes of chocolate and the requisite chewy, but thoroughly ripe tannins, this is impressive from front to back.

We can roll out the requisite press.  There’s a Vinous 93 with comments, “… an impeccably balanced wine that brings together firm mountain structure with ripe, unctuous fruit. Dark cherry, plum compote, spice, licorice and menthol are some of the many notes that give the Reserve its mid-palate density and sweetness. The firm tannins need time to soften, but this is impressive juice. “

There’s an even more emphatic Wine Advocate 95, offering “The (2014 Cabernet)… is the deepest, richest wine of the entire portfolio, with an opaque purple color and a super-pure nose of crème de cassis and blueberries. The wine is rich, full-bodied, nicely textured, and very long in the finish, with ripe tannins. It can be drunk now or cellared for another 15 or more years.”

High praise, to be sure.  But we can help but think that if the wine had a little more of a ‘trophy’ style that obliterates terroir for the sake of hedonism, with overt, lavish oak, and carried the name of one of the current media darlings, it would have garnered a couple more points and approached ‘legend’ status.  To Michael’s credit, this is as fine an expression of this vineyard, in a pure, honest style, that we have tasted from Keenan.

But we also think this effort is better even than the reviews chronicle and we’d think to ourselves that it seems to us that sometimes the ‘old guard’ has to do more to get the same recognition.  One of the Cabs of the vintage for us thus far and, given the cost of Napa reserve Cabs these day, attractively priced as well.

ONE OF A KIND BARBERA SOURCE

Our subject here is the Cantine Valpane Barbera del Monferrato Perlydia 2012.  What’s special about it?  Well, we have presented wines from Valpane before and they are delicious examples of the  breed.  But what makes this house unique is that this 2012 is the current release!   What kind of vintner holds on to his Barbera this long before going to market, sometimes for more than a decade?  One who follows his own heart.

Clearly Pietro Arditi, the ‘Barbera whisperer’, listens to the wine and not the ‘metrics’ of 21st Century marketing.  Now This didn’t happen completely by accident, mind you. The land gave him some juicy, vibrant fruit to work with, then he decided to keep the wine in botti (large neutral barrels) or cement until he deems it ready.   What does six-year-old Barbara taste like? This particular effort is loaded with red berry fruit, but the spice and terroir notes are more expressive and better meshed because the lower acidity from bottle age lets them be.

Don’t worry though, there is surprising freshness and life to the fruit. Bottled unfiltered and unfined, fermented entirely with native yeasts, there is a gregarious, fruit-forward element to Valpane’s wines as well as great purity of flavor.

The Perlydia is 100% Barbera harvested from vines planted only in 2000, but it delivers the same joyous mouthful of fruit as do all of the Valpane wines. That little bit of bottle age really helps the wine to get into gear quickly and the ripe, somewhat resolved tannins and lower acidity make for an uncommonly delicious drink without a lot of fuss.  To do all of this careful raising of the wines for this kind of price is an added bonus and makes Valpane a rather unique wine to offer.

THE PERFECT CABERNET?

It has been our mission to fight the high cost of ‘North Coast Cabernet’ because the ones with that nebulous title are rarely very exciting, and the ones that say Napa Valley on them are typically too expensive.  One of our solutions to this issue is to put successful and well priced options from ‘other places’ in front of you for you consideration.  We have stated that Chile and Argentina have really been finding their mojo over the last few years and this effort from one of the pioneers of the modern era in Chile definitely scored a gooooaaaaaal with this one.

The star of this story, Lapostolle, has now had nearly a quarter century to perfect their craft, and they are certainly working on a high plane right now.  If you don’t know the story, it’s a classic tale of French people going to the New World to try and make magic.   Lapostolle Wines was founded by Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and her husband Cyril de Bournet in 1994. Alexandra is a member of the renowned family that has been dedicated for several generations to the production of high-quality spirits and wines (like Grand Marnier).   After visiting Chile, Alexandra and Cyril not only fell in love with the Colchagua Valley, they also detected the enormous potential of the country to produce premium wines.

To that end they have been producing a number of different wines that showcase the region, none more interesting than their efforts with Bordeaux varietals, some of it brought here from Bordeaux in the 19th Century (pre-phylloxera).  They were one of the ‘true believers’ in Chile and when their super-premium Clos Apalta 1997, one of the first of its kind, there were plenty of nay-sayers.  But the wine has now established unquestioned credibility (the 2013 was a 97 from James Suckling, the 2014 a ‘100’, for example).  All the while the winery has benefited not only from the means and knowledge of its ownership, but an association with wine guru Michel Rolland.

The Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvee Alexandre Apalta 2013 definitely shows a ‘trickle down’ effect.  It is plush and polished like something twice the price, with a sexy core of black fruits and notes of cocoa and graphite.  The Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvee Alex Alexandre 2013 comes from the same Apalta vineyard as the ‘big dog’.  The process here is very natural with minimal intervention. The grapes are 100% hand harvested in small cases of 14 kilos, there is strict fruit selection by state-of-the-art optical sorting and 15% hand de-stemming of the grapes. Gentle extraction methods and a judicious use of oak are key to making a wine that is ample, pure, and supple.

Having tasted several vintages of Lapostolle, we can honestly say that this is one of the best.  Apparently we weren’t the only fans.  James Suckling had this to say, “Deep and dense yet agile and fine. Full body, blueberry and black currant character, and a seamless silky finish. Gorgeous pure cabernet sauvignon. Biodynamically grown grapes. Drink or hold….94 ponts.”  Note his comment on ‘purity’ alongside ours.  In a world where reds are tasting ever more formulaic, this tastes like a really good, balanced Cabernet.

The best part is that, with all of the laborious handling, this delightful, plush, engaging Cabernet, with an extra bonus of being five years old, can be had for under $20!  A delicious, honest, varietally true red at a great price, with a little bottle age and an impressive review, is this the ‘perfect Cabernet’ for ‘current applications’ or what?!

 

DELICIOUS ‘OLD SCHOOL’ VOUVRAY FROM GUY SAGET

As much as we love Vouvray, we are willing to admit that it is a not the easiest genre to understand.  It is important to define one’s terms because the label doesn’t always dial it in for you.  Dessert Vouvray is usually labeled molleux, but beyond that it gets a little fuzzy.  You will see the word ‘trie’ on a label.   But with Huet that is a later harvest, with multiple passes through the vineyard, and typically something on the dessert end of the spectrum.  Yet Baumard also makes a wine with ‘trie’ on the label.  Same multiple passes through the vineyard, and it’s killer, too, but it is bone dry.

It’s the same when there aren’t words.  Some of the bottlings will say ‘demi sec’ or ‘tendre’ which indicates there’s a hint of residual sugar which we find an essential with Chenin Blanc.  Many labels simply say Vouvray, which doesn’t necessarily tell you what the style of the wine is.  It could be anywhere from bone dry to that demi-sec profile, which is kind of the tradition in this area.  Some of them can be downright sweet.  Life on the edge.

All of that being said, Saget is an old friend around here.  We have sold several vintages, and a whole lot of some of them.  The style of the house is definitely what could be described as ‘enlightened’ demi-sec that sits on the less sweet end of this very specific category.  We are huge fans of Chenin Blanc, the grape, but firmly believe that a touch of sweetness goes a long way in helping the varietal settle into a nice groove.  Chenin at its best has driving acidity and, like Riesling, a little sweetness helps temper the angry edges this varietal can have.  For most of its history as we know it, Saget lives in that ‘crowd pleaser’ area stylistically and they do one heck of a job at it.

The Saget La Perriere Vouvray Marie de Beauregard 2015 is once again an engaging mouthful, with bright fruit components of peach and citrus, with honeyed notes to the finish and a snappy cut of acidity that keeps everything quivering.  For its style, it is way too easy to quaff and it has pulled 91 or more from Wine Spectator in five of the last seven vintages as well as three ‘Smart Buy’ comments (under Saget La Perriere and previously under the label Guy Saget).   Not bad for something that sells for under $15 but it is hard not to like this.

Not surprising, the Saget La Perriere Vouvray Marie de Beauregard 2015 was again awarded 92 points by Wine Spectator and a ‘Smart Buy’ tout with comments, “ Juicy and ripe, with inviting pear, quince and fig flavors laced with light ginger and honeysuckle notes. Shows a flash of hazelnut through the finish. On the hedonistic side, but has the freshness for balance.“  It’s one of those sneaky little finds that ‘keeps on giving.’

 

‘Little’ Wine from a Top Dog, Northern Rhone Style

So years ago (2000 actually), we attended the first InterRhone exposition in the Rhone Valley, an event dedicated to presenting Rhone wines in groups during presentations within the various appellations.  One of the most memorable days was the ‘show’ in Hermitage, with a large number of who’s who producers.  It was in a bank building and the various growers were stationed behind teller’s windows presenting their wares.

The majority of the wines were from the outstanding 1999 vintage, there were three producers whose wines stood out even among the power lineup that was presenting that day.  One of the three was a house we had read about but had never yet seen in our part of the world, nor had the opportunity to taste.  That was Domaine Sorrel.  That event made a lasting impression and we spent the next few years trying to find a viable source for Sorrel’s wines.  We got a couple of scraps in the European market but were generally unsuccessful in our effort to solidify a steady source.

About a decade later, the Sorrel wines showed up at a local importer and it was a pretty happy day for us when we snagged the tail end of Sorrel’s 2010 Hermitage.  A  beautiful wine that encapsulated Sorrel’s distinctive style to a tee,  it showed depth and presence but also an uncommon elegance.  This wasn’t the biggest or jammiest example of the genre.  But it did not lack for stuffing and was impressive for its balance and polish.

Fast forward to today and the 2015 vintage.  We had never seen Sorrel’s Crozes Hermitage before but the house style was in full array.  The Marc Sorrel Crozes Hermitage 2015 showed plenty of dark fruits with insistent undercurrents of minerality, but the wine also had a harmony and presence that set it apart from the rank and file from this ripe, weighty but sometimes California-like vintage. Crozes can be a little curious from the standpoint of quality because the appellation extends from the hillside to flatter areas near the highway.  As we say here, hillside Crozes is better than ‘freeway’ Crozes.  In the hands of someone like Sorrel, the equation only gets better.

The reviews indirectly speak of the value in that the score was very close to the Hermitage but the Crozes costs about half as much.  Josh Reynolds of Vinous saw it this way, “Deep vivid ruby. Ripe blackberry and cherry scents are energized by cracked pepper and smoky mineral accents. Fleshy and open-knit, offering sweet dark berry and violet pastille flavors and a touch of salty olive paste. The peppery note recurs on a long, blue-fruit-inflected finish that’s given structure by mounting tannins…91 points.”  The wine definitely has an upscale feel to it, but at a touch over $30 its pretty wallet-friendly for what it delivers.

 

Great, well-priced, go-to Beaujolais…we got that

As a store that has been heavy into the Beaujolais game for more than a quarter century, it is interesting to note how much more interest the genre gets now than it did a couple decades ago.  The thing it that most of that attention is devoted to the ‘cru’ level wines and folks like Liger Belair and Desjourneys who are trying to shake the traditional foundations of Beaujolais.

If you are looking for the classic, juicy, versatile example of Beaujolais, there are plenty of them out there, particularly from special vintages like 2015 and 2016.  Unfortunately they are usually the entry level wine of some producer’s hierarchy and, because they are usually overshadowed by those ‘upper cuvees’, are less likely to get the kind of reviews that will inspire buyers.

Market mechanics are a big part of the equation to be sure.  But one of the producers that has been a part of our lineup by virtue of a consistent juiciness and engaging personality to their wines is Domaine de Colette.  These guys make that fruit driven, in-your face style that will make friends and influence people…in other words classic Beaujolais.  The 2016 shows pure, ripe Gamay with very specific flavors that sit atop beautifully measured tension that gives this wine an uncommon energy along with a pleasing core of fruit.

The comments from Vinous’ Josh Raynolds on the Domaine de Colette Beaujolais Villages Coteaux de Colette 2016 are very positive, “Vivid red. Spicy, mineral-accented red berry and floral scents, along with a hint of white pepper. Juicy and focused on the palate, offering tangy red currant and strawberry flavors and a touch of allspice. Unfolds slowly, picking up a subtle floral pastille quality on the gently tannic, focused finish.’   But perhaps on a more mundane level, if you are looking for a well made, fruit driven, really pleasing Beaujolais, Colette has been a good source for us for a long time and this is a particularly good example.  Great price for the performance!

IN THE PINK, PART ONE: ROSE TIME

It’s that time again, though admittedly when we started getting serious about rosés back with the 2001 vintage we never imagined it would play out like it has.  Back then, after a couple of decades of white Zinfandel domination, most wine buyers were reluctant to try pink wines because they thought of them as the mawkishly sweet, soda pop examples that grandma drank.  The folks that bought pink wine were typically looking for the white Zin experience and thus disappointed with a crisp dry rose.  Our only thought back then was to try to introduce more people to dry pinks because they served such a need during the warmer months because they were fresh, light, and versatile with food.

A decade and a half later we and others like us fear we may have done our job too well.  There is a thirst for rosé in the marketplace like there never has been.  People are willing to try all kinds of different pinks and many consider them a necessary part of their beverage program.  The industry has responded, as it so often does, by overdoing it to the point of silliness (see also White Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, and high-octane, red  ‘mutt’ blends with artsy labels and big price tags).  There are anywhere from five to ten times as many rosé options as back when we started, a great many of them from places that never made pink wine before and arguably shouldn’t be making them now.

All of this rose madness has done a number of things.  We get a lot more selection from places like Provence, Bandol and the Rhone, places that have a long and positive history with the genre.  There are also a few intriguing new options that have been created simply because there was a potential market.  Sadly, there is way too much mediocre-to-poor pink out there and our task of working through them has almost become a slop.  Everybody has a pink wine (or two, or three) to sell.

With that, our game plan this year is to be even more selective in what we offer than in years past.  The 2017s, while perhaps a half-step behind the 2016s (which are still showing beautifully by the way) and the 2015s, are still quite complete and engaging.  Our preferred profile is still fresh, honest fruit and bright acidity.  We tend to avoid efforts with higher alcohols and lower acidity because they simply aren’t refreshing and that is what pink wine is all about.  Even as we work with fewer wines than before, it is still a fair amount of juice to talk about.  So with summer right around the corner, we’d best start talking…

RIMAURESQ ROSE PROVENCE CRU CLASSE 2017While the whole idea of Cru Classe de Provence has been around for a long time, with even the ‘official’ founding of the appellation happening back in 1955, there has been a real interest recently to put more vigor into the marketing of this special little spot for pink wine.  This is one of the ‘original’ fourteen members of this very specific delineated terroir and these guys appear to be upping their game a bit.

The microclimate of Rimauresq is a real singularity of the Côtes de Provence appellation.   The vineyard is  located at an altitude varying from 140 to 190 meters at the foot of Notre Dame des Anges. The shade of the hill and the beneficial effects of the Mistral play a role in this wines fresh personality.  The estate consists of a clay-schist and crystalline soil, with sandy and stony parts. It is common to benefit from the combination of several soils (degraded schist, pink sandstone, rolled pebbles) within the same plot and that is the case here. Rimauresq takes its name from the Moors River which crosses the Domain.

They make other ‘flavors’ but this is a house rosé built.  They make five different versions.  The Rimauresq Rose Provence is a mix of 43% Grenache, 24% Cinsault, 10% Mourvedre, 8% Syrah, 6% Carignan and 9% Rolle (aka Vermentino).  The aromatics speak of berries, apricot and citrus with a little garrigue and some mineral and floral aspects.  In the mouth it isd both fleshy and lifted with the red fruits as the central theme but subtle layers as befits this wine’s diverse makeup.

ELIZABETH SPENCER GRENACHE ROSE MENDOCINO SPECIAL CUVEE 2017- We aren’t going to say we weren’t a little surprised by this wine.  Usually California pinks have a tendency to be a little plodding.  To tell the truth we went back three times to make sure we weren’t just in a good mood or it was a biodynamic ‘fruit day’.  The wine delivered plenty of mouth-watering red berries flecked with stone fruit, apple, and floral notes, with just the right amount of snap at the end.  The story is that this wine came from Mendocino, where it is cooler and therefore more likely for the wine to retain its necessary acidity.

The grapes came from rocky soils in the benchlands up by Ukiah, and they were harvested specifically to make pink wine (as opposed to being a saignee of something else.  That accounts for the depth of flavor here, and some of the wine saw a bit of neutral oak for rounding out.  Bright, insistent yet still with a playful quaffabilty, this one definitely has a European demeanor, but the Mendocino fruit makes for an interesting change of pace.

Made from 100% Grenache, this one checks all the boxes in a way few domestic versions do in our minds…fresh, fruit driven, lifted, and well-priced.

MOURGUES DU GRES COSTIERES DE NIMES GALETS ROSE 2017- We go back a long way with this domaine, and their 2017 is arguably one of te best buys on pink wine values we have seen this year.  Located in the Costieres des Nimes at the southern end of the Rhone Valley.   This vineyard is covered with the round rocks that you see in Chateauneuf to the north (hence the reference to galets) which add a subtle mineral character to the rose.  The main show is red berry flanked by notes yellow atone fruit and a touch of both white pepper and garrigue.

The style here is definitely old school, with a rather broad fruit component but just the right touch of acidity to keep it fresh on the palate.  The mix here is a pretty standard one of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, and 10% Mourvèdre, but they produce a lot of red win so the juice comes mainly from saignee.  The wine has a bit more size than some pinks which allows it to play with a wider array of grilled fare, and the price ($11.98) definitely makes it easier to swallow.

CHATEAU VANNIERES BANDOL ROSE 2017-  No discussion of rose is complete without Bandol, arguably ‘Provence reserve’ but with its own unique twist thanks to the healthy portion of Mourvedre in the blend.

Bandol is historic, the first vines being planted here by the Romans some 2500 years ago.   Also, Bandonl is arguably the elite category of French rose and prices have edged up accordingly on the heels of producers like Domaine Tempier.  Finding good Bandol Rose isn’t as big a challenge as finding good Bandol rose that is reasonably priced.  Vannieres fits that requirement nicely.

The current family that owns the property, the Boisseaux, are outliers from Beaune that bought this property in 1957.  Father Gaston has now passed the reins to son Eric who is a bit of an epicurean and is currently tinkering with concentration and elegance among other things.   This wine is an indication that the program is working well.  One could call this ‘classic’ Bandol Rose, a blend of 60% Mourvedre from saignee, along with 20% comes from the each of Grenache and Cinsault from direct pressing, all from vines ranging from 20 to 60 years of age.

The flavors range from white stone fruits to red melon to faintly citrus tones, with that inviting, intriguing musky note that the Mourvedre from this area delivers.  Mouthwatering, maybe even a little intellectual, it is a fine example of what Bandol rose is all about and very reasonable for this currently ‘too hot’ genre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OREGON CHARDONNAY 2.0: LINGUA FRANCA BUNKER HILL 2016

There’s a lot to digest here.  First of all, it would have been easy for us to dismiss this as another ‘somm label’.  You know, famous sommelier decides he can do it better and goes off to create some undernourished wine that ‘pairs well with food’.  Only in this case the sommelier in question is one of some repute, Larry Stone, and he partnered with a ‘hall-of-fame’ Burgundy producer, Dominique Lafon.    They then hired Thomas Savre, an accomplished young winemaker from Evening Land’s Seven Springs Vineyard and put him to work on the project.

Perhaps even a bigger challenge here is that we are going to talk about an Oregon Chardonnay that sells for around $50.  But the performance here was so remarkable that we are thinking about it not as an Oregon Chardonnay, but as a white Burgundy look-alike that, given the cost of ‘real’ white Burgundy these days, actually looks reasonably priced.  We know a lot of you are still like we used to be, thinking of Oregon Chardonnay a sea of lean, mediocre juice grown in the wrong location, planted to the wrong clone.  There is still a lot of that.  But the upswing in quality from those who have reoriented their Chardonnay programs and corrected some of the old mistakes is astounding.

Lingua Franca Chardonnay Bunker Hill 2016 is exclusively from Salem’s Bunker Hill in Eola-Amity, with 20-year-old CH76 vines on pure Nekia soils at an altitude of around 800 feet. It is a west-facing vineyard that is exposed directly to the cooling ocean winds of the Van Duzer corridor (yeah pretty geeky stuff). The name of the winery, Lingua Franca, which is defined as “a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different”, seems an appropriate tongue-in-cheek reference to this ‘Franco-American’ endeavor.

All we can figure is that these guys, who have tasted some of the world’s greatest wines, have figured out a way to make something in the image of a great white Burgundy.   No easy task but knowledge is power.  The wine has both substance and lift.  The aroma is complex with layers of mineral, smoke, herbs, caramel apples, and a faint hint of that hazelnut character we associate with Meursault (or is that power of suggestion?).  The wine is intense, long, racy and complex on the palate with a lasting finish of citrus, herbs, and white flowers.  There are flinty, mouth-watering mineral notes as well, which we don’t typically associate with Oregon Chardonnay.

All in all this is an impressive glassful and indicates this project is going to turn some heads (the inaugural 2015s got some nice ink from Vinous), and that Oregon is capable of bringing Chardonnay drama when the juice is in the right hands.  A good run of vintages probably hasn’t hurt the early success here but, clearly, there is some vision here as well.  Talking about $50 domestic Chardonnay typically isn’t our ‘jam’, but exceptions do come along.  We highly recommend this one as a breakout kind of effort as well as a darned tasty bottle of serious Chardonnay that deserves attention.  Also there’s that whole thing about ‘preconceived notions’…