GREAT BURGUNDY VALUE ‘IN DISGUISE’

There are two parts to this story, the most important being a delicious, well-priced bottle of Pinot Noir from older vines.  The house of  Maison Bertrand Amboise is a well-respected source for red and white Burgundy with a particularly important association with the villages of Nuits-St.-George and an elevated reputation for that appellation since the early 90s.

The domaine itself dates back to the late 18th century. Bertrand took control of the estate in 1988 after the death of Martin’s (Bertrand’s wife) father and has never looked back. Today Bertrand’s son, Francois, manages the vineyards (w/Bertrand) & daughter, Ludivine, manages the commercial aspects of the domaine; allowing Bertrand to concentrate on the winemaking.

Low yields and ripe skins allow for long, slow fermentations on the skins, sometimes 3+ weeks, which is why these wines have more color than most and a sweeter impression of the tannins.  All cuvees are 100% destemmed.  The Victor Fagon Bourgogne Rouge 2016 exhibits a lovely blue fruit note in the peripheral flavors as a result of that ‘ripe skin’ process.  It is particularly evident in the case of a 2016, a good vintage but one that didn’t always show that ‘next level’ ripeness.  This wine actually shares textural and flavor elements that are a bit more pandering like a 2015 red Burgundy, but a brightness more associated with the vintage of record.

The juice comes from vines that average 50 years old located in Premeaux-Prissey, the southern part of Nuits-St-Goerges.  Raised in 2-5 year old barrels, it is rather dark in color for a Burgundy with upfront, powerful blackberry fruit in the nose, refined tannins, and loads of darker fruits across the palate with aspects of soil and oak spice.   It’s a surprisingly good effort for the fare, and, like we said, shares as much with a 2015 as 2016 stylistically.  This would have been an email but people have already been nibbling on it to the point where our ‘par’ quantities were below necessary levels.  We wrote this so a few more folks got the ‘411’ before it disappears.

Why are we talking about Bertrand Amboise and Victor Fagon in such a casual, back and forth manner? We know it’s a little confusing, with the wine’s moniker different from the estate notes.  This happens occasionally in the world of wine.  Sometimes a producer is linked with an importer who may not be doing everything the producer would like.  But the producers have legal/contractual restraints as to what they can market under their own brand.  This is one of those cases, and this is a great ‘workaround’ for such cases.

The name on the label represents Francois’s son “Victor” and “Guy-Crescent Fagon”, doctor to Louis XIV and important benefactor to the wines of Nuits Saint Georges.  Victor Fagon is an amalgam of the two names for marketing purposes.  In the end, it’s the wine that matters, and this one delivers.

‘Modern’ (Easy Dinking) Chianti

Chianti as a category can be a bit daunting.  You’ve got commercial stuff in straw fiascos in the red checkered cloth Italian restaurants, the $100+ single vineyard bottlings from Castello di Ama, and a rainbow of stuff in between.  It’s all called Chianti even though some have nothing in common.  To further complicate matters, you have a variety of terroirs like Chianti Classico, Rufina, and Greve that make their own unique contribution to the finished wine.  Finally, you have individual styles of the wineries themselves.

While most of the producer names that come to mind fall into more or less in what would be the ‘traditional’ camp, today we thought we’d touch on a couple that were more ‘new school’ at least in how they come across.  While the whole discussion of ‘camps’ doesn’t really come up a lot relative to Chianti, we felt the need to share a couple of wines that have a plumper, sweeter core of fruit that gives a more fruit-driven, ‘modern’ element to their profiles.

The first was a staple at the Orange store for years, though this is the first time this ‘regular’ bottling of the Fattoria Basciano Chianti Rufina 2015 has appeared here.  We hadn’t seen the wine in a while.  The fact that this came from the juicy 2015 vintage made a perfect platform for Basciano’s gregarious stylistic bent.  Key words that seem to come up consistently when we talk about Basciano are ‘lip smacking’ and ‘juicy’.  Father Renzo and son Paolo Masi run something of a negociant enterprise with the idea of consistently getting high quality fruit to create enviable quality at attractive prices.  This they have done quite well for a long time.

The 2015 has the bright, slippery, ripe black and blue fruit core that should appeal to anyone.  The wine is packed with tender fruit, has plenty of energy, and is far too easy to haul off and drink for something from Rufina.  At this point we don’t see a lot of the minerally terroir that appears in a supporting role in most efforts from this part of Chianti.  This wine is the proverbial, succulent ‘fastball down the middle’.

Wine Spectator’s descriptors work efficiently here, “Pure aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry and floral gain depth from earth and leafy tobacco accents. Firms up on the finish, with a pleasant astringency.”  One doesn’t write paragraphs on this one.  One drinks it with relish.  The Basciano simply wants to be liked and it succeeds admirably on that score.  Don’t let the $12 price scare you either.  This delivers plenty of character and value as well.

The Gagliole Chianti Classico Rubiolo 2016 plays to the same crowd, but for different reasons.  We have had a few presentations of this Gagliole bottling in past vintages, but this is the first one to ‘make the cut’.  We are probably not going out on too much of a limb to suggest the 2016 vintage may have had something to do with that, ome article suggesting later harvesting during this cooler vintage probably did a lot to elevate and enrich this wine’s fruit core.

It is that outgoing fruit that makes the Rubiolo appealing to a larger audience.  Not sure if ‘fruit driven’ and ‘modern’ was the intent here but that is what this delivers.  The Rubiolo is 95% Sangiovese, clearly a big beneficiary in the 2016 vintage as a varietal, but also contains five percent Merlot to give the edges a bit of polish.

While this is our first dance with the Rubiolo that we can recall, there seems to be a ready audience with a 91 from Wine Advocate with comments, “This wine is an absolute steal…” James Suckling tossed a 92 on it and it got two glasses from Gambero Rosso to boot.  Plump, seamless, focused on a joyous core of plumy fruit, it is easy to like, and won’t break the bank at $14.98.

THE OTHER DAUVISSAT

In ancient growing areas, there are families whose names become inexorably connected to the region through long time association and success.  Reverdy in Sancerre is such a name where the reputation is associated with one house in particular, but the name through extended familial connections appears on many labels.  On Chablis, the name Dauvissat is a revered one for those who appreciate the best in traditional styling.  Vincent and Rene Dauvissat are the icon source and among the most respected in all of Chablis alongside Raveneau, names notwithstanding.  But a family that has been in an area for a long time should be expected to have some sort of family tree.

We have sold a number of V&R Dauvussat’s Chabis over the years, as well as a few things from extended family members Jean & Sebastien Dauvissat.  Agnes et Didier Dauvissat are new to us and, themselves, are distant cousins who worked in vineyards but, prior to 1987, owned no vines.  Their estate is in the town of Beine about ten minutes west of Chablis.

Thanks  to the familial connection, Didier did do his apprenticeship with Vincent.  There are three different estates with this Dauvissat moniker, this being the youngest.  But whatever the gene is for making good Chablis, these folks seem to have inherited it. We tasted three wines from the estate, a Petit Chablis, Chablis ‘villages’, and a Beauroy 1er Cru from the 2017 vintage.

While we would happily consume any one of them, the Agnes et Didier Dauvissat Chablis 1er Cru Beauroy 2017 was simply too good to say no to.  This is a powerful, classic Chablis with intense minerality and salinity exploding out of the pear/citrus fruit.  Stop and smell the rocks?  This Chablis grabbed our attention even among an impressive lineup of other and the authoritative palate and overt ‘Chablisness’ made it most memorable.

Since this plot, called the Cote de Savant, is located on the slope that sits above the pond, the presence of the water has the micro-climatic effect of mediating temperatures when the weather gets warm.  The vines are hitting 20 years old with this vintage.  This particular presentation added a lot of information to the database.  This Dauvissat definitely has chops and is another to pay attention to.  The 2017 vintage in Chablis is at least very good to excellent based on what we have tasted thus far, but there is precious little of this delicious, well-priced ($24.98) Premier Cru to go around (only about 500 bottles are produced).

Tenuta di Trinoro Toscana IGT Le Cupole 2015

That bizarre red and yellow label with the picture of a swan on it that kind of looks like it was botched at the printer has been a fixture around here for some time.  That’s because we are big fans of the pioneering work of Andrea Franchetti in this part of southwestern Tuscany.  His Tenuta di Trinoro wines have a serious following but it is with the Tenuta di Trinoro Toscana IGT Le Cupole 2015 that we get the most excited.  Here is a meticulously produced blend of Bordeaux varietals that has the seamless nature, polish, and fruit driven style of his icon bottlings but is a fraction of the price.  It is a true ‘second wine’ as it faultlessly emulates the harmonious style of the house and is a great window into the workings of this unique estate.  The ripe 2015 vintage didn’t hurt either.

Our ‘little wines from great producers’ mantra is in full array here and we think this 2015 is one of the juiciest in the series.  From Advocate’s Monica Larner, “…(it) is far more sophisticated and richly textured compared to the great majority of wines from the surrounding hillsides of Tuscany. Black cherry, sweet spice and tarry earth converge on the bouquet. The mouthfeel is slightly sweet and rich in texture…92 points.”   With 2018 showcasing such an amazing volume of great efforts from Italy in general and Tuscany in particular, a lot of really exciting stuff like this is still ‘on deck’ as far as email offers and may never get its time in the spotlight.  But this is a versatile and appealing red not to be missed.

THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OTT

One Thursday morning we were treated (OK, yeah, it’s work too) to a lineup from the estimable estate of Bernhard Ott.  Our reference to the ‘Wizard of Ott’ was not only to make a tongue-in-cheek connection via a phonetic similarity to a popular story, but, man, the guy is something of a ‘wizard’.  This ‘Grüner whisperer’ presented a lineup of 2017 releases that were stunning in their uniformity and brilliant execution.

Grüner Veltiner is something of a terroir-driven grape, a varietal that thrives in cooler, elevated sites and speaks very clearly of the place from which it comes.  While the press gives the lion’s share of the attention to the more visible appellations of Wachau and Kremstal, there seems to be a lot of respect for this further-from-the-river Wagram property.

It is hard to describe how these wines are special, but we’ll try.  Often Grüner, while expressing soils and terroir notes of the vineyards from which they come, can be a little angular or not display a lot of fruit in the profile.  This Ott lineup, from the just emerging 2017 vintage, showed all of the classic stone, soil, and wild herb accents that seem to be part of the Grüner makeup.  But what elevated the whole experience is that each of these expressions was wrapped in a round, mouth-filling, almost tender robe of ripe, precise white stone fruits.

At the same the palate was engaging with its almost sappy textural aspects, the well-infused underlying acidity gave everything uncanny lift and kept things well delineated throughout.  Yeah, it’s a little warmer in Wagram than the more famous terroirs, but Ott’s own talents put these in a league of their own.  They are sure to please devoted fans of the genre, but have a subtle richness that will win new friends as well.  These completely won the day and there wasn’t a single one that we wouldn’t drink with relish.

There is a hierarchy to be sure.  In his review of the 2016 Am Berg, David Schildknecht poses the question, “Is any intro-level Grüner Veltliner bottling more consistently fine than Ott’s?”  Maybe, but it’s a really short list.  The Bernhard Ott Gruner Veltliner Am Berg 2017’s glossy top coat makes for a pleasing entry and then the minerality and defined fruit push up from within.  All estate fruit in 2017, this is just really good Gruner for this kind of price ($16.98) in a style that should appeal to anyone.  Suckling 90 and, to us, it is better and brighter than their 2016.

The single vineyards ramp up from there.  The Bernhard Ott Gruner Veltliner Engabrunner Stein 2017 comes from stony terraces at the eastern edge of the Kamptal.  The nose offers wet stone, streaks of fresh lime and crabapple, snap pea and green bean. The palate is round and plump but  at the same time  juicy.  The bright acidity keeps a low profile but fulfills all of its duties to support and brighten the impression of the overall wine.    Stones, salinity, nori and oyster shell all play a subtle supporting role to the reserved white stone fruit mid-palate and this surprisingly weighty Gruner finishes with a fine subtle cut.

The Bernhard Ott Gruner Veltliner Feuersbrunner Speigel 2017 leans a bit more obviously into the fruit realm of peach and apricot, with a touch more weight and accents of flowers, wild herbs and peas.  Broader with an even more glycerin-y impression, the cooler green components play beautifully against the lush fruit center and, again, there is an insistent buoyancy to the wine from front to back.  Perhaps a touch more direct this is clearly a serious effort in Ott’s very user-friendly style.

The top of the heap, as well as the price range, is the Bernhard Ott Gruner Veltliner Feuersbrunner Rosenberg 2017This one simply has more of everything from broader, sappier fruit suggesting melon, orange and pear, musky fruit notes in the aromatics, a more insistent streak of minerality and that signature engaging textural aspect that was a consistent theme with Ott’s 2017s.  White pepper, stones, fresh herbs, and salinity are all a part of the tapestry of flavors.  As the importer puts it, this is the icon wine, but there are no bad choices here.

We were duly impressed with this group at every level and would even have the temerity to suggest these over a number of other similarly priced upper tier whites.  The upper-90s scores and notes from James Suckling on the vineyard bottlings would seem to indicate we are not alone in our admiration for this lineup.  Amazingly food friendly too.

BRIEFS****

It’s that hustle and bustle time of the year.  People are busy and don’t necessarily have the time to read long, involved pieces on wines.  We get it. But we also don’t want you to miss out on anything.  So here are some quick notes on a number of different things that we haven’t had the opportunity to explore in depth with the understanding that there might be something more extensive on some of these later on…

**Chardonnay fans might want to take a quick look at some of the key reloads we got back in.  We sold out the De Wetshof Chardonnay Lesca 2017  on our email at the beginning of December.  The argument is pretty compelling here.  This one, raised in rare limestone soils, is the only under $25 Chardonnay to get a 93 point score from Wine Spectator.  Bright, driven, full of energy, South Africa can make exceptional Chardonnay and this one is a consistent bargain for the genre.

**Nobody is creating more drama for Chardonnay than Charles Smith (also of K Vintners and Wines of Substance).  His Sixto wines, all the result of finding some mature gem vineyards that were off the radar, are racking up big reviews.  We took serious hits to the Sixto Wines Chardonnay Frenchman Hills Vineyard 2015Sixto Wines Chardonnay Moxee Vineyard 2015, and Sixto Wines Chardonnay Roza Hills 2015 but were able to scrounge up a little more juice.  Given the premium quality and level of performance, the prices are quite attractive as well.  If you missed them before, here’s a reprieve.  If you haven’t tried them yet, it’s high time you did!

**We didn’t have the time, or the stock, to do a big offer on this breakthrough wine, but Lavinea is an important name to know.  Isabelle Meunier has worked at prestigious addresses such as Domaine de la Vougeraie in Burgundy and Felton Road in New Zealand, and is now committed to elevating the stature of Oregon Chardonnay on the world stage.  With a total production of 231 cases, the impact of their Lavinea Chardonnay Lazy River Vineyard 2015 on the broad market will obviously be limited, but it will make quite an impression on those fortunate enough to latch onto some.  It’s a James Suckling 93 and an ‘enthusiastic’ 97 from Wine Enthusiast.

**Yeah we know we said we were done buying Champagne for the season.  But when we had a chance to re-taste the Paul Dethune Grand Cru Brut, a favorite from years past, we had to squeeze in one more.  Just…too…good. Featuring 70% Pinot Noir from Ambonnay (Pinot Noir country), and 30% Chardonnay, it has the broad, mouthfilling, authoritative palate that reminds us of another favorite, Billiot, but with a bit finer, yeastier impression on the edges.  Exciting, engaging bubbles as always.

**We have seen very few examples from this respected vineyard over the years, but what we have seen has been impressive (St. Urbans Hof examples come to mind). The Carl Loewen Riesling Laurentiuslay Spatlese 2017 is a great, old-school, kick- your- tail spatlese, packed with dense fruit and stones. The grapes come from 80-100 year old ungrafted vines. Nothing else can make a wine like this but really old vines. Importer Terry Theise’s take, “In essence this is weighty, extravagant fruit anchored to profound and almost chewy earthiness. like a crème-brulée of Laurentiuslay, earth, apricots and butterscotch.” JamesSuckling.com’s call, “A breathtaking Spätlese! Succulent and vibrant with a bright acidity, carrying the long and super clean finish. Better from 2020, but it shows enormous aging potential…96 points.”  A spectacular traditional spätlese.

**Bodegas Riojanas is a grand old label that ages gracefully like a fine Burgundy, and we have had some stellar experiences with bottles dating back to the ’50s and ’60s.  This year slipped by before we got the chance to talk these up, but long time followers know we have sold past examples of their Monte Real series and drank many bottles ourselves with gusto.  They never disappoint, always delivering seamless, elegant, supple and complex fruit supported by slightly dusty, ripe tannins.

The Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Monte Real Gran Reserva 1998, now age 20, shows the more earthy, complex, aromatic side of Rioja while the more direct Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Monte Real Gran Reserva 2004 has a plumper middle thanks to the riper fruit from the vintage.  If you came in and asked us for something to impress that you could take home and enjoy tonight, there’s a good chance we would hand you one of these.  Once again, nothing delivers value like Rioja.

**With the remarkable parade this year of great wine  from the Southern Rhone’s 2016 vintage, it was simply a matter of so many great wines and a finite amount of opportunities.  It was a given that we wouldn’t be able to get to everything.  The Mordoree Chateauneuf du Pape La Dame Voyageuse 2016 is billed as something of a ‘second wine’ and a more approachable version of their flagship Reine de Bois Chateauneuf.

This is only the third version that we know of but it is the best Voyageuse of the series.  It didn’t finish far behind its vaunted sibling in the reviews and higher than a lot of other top Chateauneufs, and you can get the better part of two bottles of this for the price of one of the Reine de Bois.  Jeb Dunnuck 95, Advocate 94, this is a big, lush, lusty mouthful of 90% Grenache with bits of Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise, and Vaccarese, all lifted and tempered by this one-of-a-kind vintage.  Very user-friendly, seriously good.

**There’s a bit of history here that can be confusing.  Briefly, Pax was a hot label a few years back and the recipient of numerous impressive kudos, followed by a period where there were some internal issues and Pax, the label, was ‘Pax free’, whereby winemaker Pax Mahle founded the Wind Gap label.  Long story short, Pax is back at Pax, and doing some fine work.

The Pax Cellars Syrah Sonoma Hillsides 2017 to us marks a new level of sophistication in the house style.  We recall a lot of those early Pax Syrah hits to be firmly planted in the power camp which was definitely the style of the moment.  But while the ‘Hillsides’ doesn’t lack punch, it stops short of being over done, shows a more focused and controlled rein on the fruit, and teases with whiffs of meat, smoke, and maybe even a little bacon.

By the winery’s own admission, this wine is the assemblage of juice from various higher, cooler sites made with a direct eye to the northern Rhone.  This is something that most of the acknowledged Rhone Ranger superstars have yet to do.  Syrah is still something of a work in progress in California, but this reaches a high level with a clear stylistic objective.  Bravo.

Chile’s Greatest Under the Radar Cabernet: Domus Aurea

As we have been singing for some time now, South America is almost all grown up.  Back when we first started working with South American wines in earnest back in the early 90s, we could see that there was a lot of potential.  A lot has happened since those times.  If we were being completely honest, we probably couldn’t have predicted it would go this far.  But it has.  We have accepted it and have taken to the pulpit ourselves as we have seen some pretty amazing things coming out of South America.  We have really seen an escalation in quality particularly over the last five years.

We can run through some of the big names.  Catena, Clos Apalta, Caro, Sena, Almaviva, these are the banner carriers for the elite from South America.  As with all wine programs, there was a process.  First came the inspiration to ‘reach for the stars’.  Then the producers had to learn the unique characteristics of the various vineyards in play. Vineyards don’t show you their stuff until they’re older, then you have to figure out if you have the right vines planted in the right spot. Wine growing and producing is a patient person’s game in an impatient world.

Finally there was the establishment of a style and consistency in the cellar.  Sure, in all the cases, there was consistent high quality.  But we can’t help but think that the wines had pretty serious international marketing behind them that helped the cause.  Viña Quebrada de Macul Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon has been on our radar for quite a while as well, but is only now starting to get the attention it deserves.

We’ve had a soft spot for Domus Aurea, one of the boldest, most electric Cabernets produced anywhere in the world. It’s so distinctive, full of minerals, rocks, herbs, mint, dark berry, it’s kinda like the Chilean version of a great Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, but perhaps even richer and with more base notes.  Sleek, powerful yet refined, ‘Chateau Pinhead’ as we call it (the quirky label looks like a stylized native getting acupuncture) moves in a sphere all its own.

We have a long history with this wine going back over at least a decade (the 2002 might be the first version we sold if memory serves), but the press didn’t really get this unique red until Wine Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez took over the category with the 2008 vintage.  He gave that wine a 94, and the trend has only gone up from there.  The 2010 vintage, which we did an email offer on back in January, 2016, was considered their best effort to that time, getting a 96 point nod from Wine Advocate.

While the vintages in between have certainly been noteworthy, the 2014 Viña Quebrada de Macul Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon hit the same heights as the 2010.  It is a spectacular effort packed with power, polished, and expressing its full array of gifts.  Luis Gutierrez said the same thing, “2014 has to be one of the finest vintages at Quebrada de Macul, with wines that remind me of the 2010 vintage.”

Given his extensive narrative, Gutierrez makes our job easy this time around, “One of the best, most classical Cabernet Sauvignons from Maipo, the 2014 Domus Aurea contains some 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. This wine is always balanced and elegant. In a dry year like 2014, they think the key was sensitive irrigation without excess to keep the plant with enough water supply to get through the summer without stress. It comes from a plot of vines planted ungrafted in 1970 in the outskirts of Santiago, and it’s always vinified in a simple and traditional way; the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts after a 12-day cold soak and aged for 16 to 18 months in French oak barrels, 80% of them new…”

… 2014 is a great year for Domus; it has the notes of mint and eucalyptus, intermixed with hints of spices (cola nut and Jamaica pepper), and it’s quite aromatic, with cassis aromas and good ripeness. It has the Domus character, which is what they search for, as well as the wild character from the mountains and the stones, with that dry sensation and somewhat austere palate. It reminds me of the 2010, which was also a superb year and a textbook Cabernet from Macul. 24,491 bottles were filled in January 2016. This wine is always aged for a minimum of 18 months in bottle (often a lot longer) before it’s released…96 points.

All we can add is that this is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind, delicious and expressive Cabernet that is likely unlike anything you have.  It’s a wild ride well worth taking, a real ‘sock knocker’particularly at our special insider price.  Wine Advocate shows a $75 retail, but we’re rolling it at a special at the checkout price of $54.98.

 

VTV Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel Silex 2015: Poster Child for the New Roussillon

We marvel everyday and try to understand why some things we expect to be big aren’t and others for which we have no expectations are.    The VTV Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel Silex 2015 falls into that first category.  Yeah, the name is a little long and even after a couple of decades there is still rather limited awareness of the Roussillon.   Beyond that all of the descriptors are ‘aces’.  From Jeb Dunnuck, “… The 2015 Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel Les Vingt Marches is a hidden gem in this vintage. Made from mostly Syrah, with 20% Grenache and 10% Carignan, this full-bodied, deep and voluptuously textured red is loaded with notions of plums, violets and spice, with some Syrah meatiness developing with air. Completely destemmed and aged all in tank, I’d enjoy bottles over the coming 4-6 years. 93 points.”
You’ve got all of the right stuff here…old vines (the original review mentioned 50 year-old vines), unique terroir, an outstanding vintage, and a talented winemaker.  Everything you would expect out of a wine with those parameters is there and then some.  At $25 it can give a lot of Chateauneufs a run for their money.  Is the market so saturated with great wines that something like this can be invisible?  The wines emerging from the Roussillon these days are the best to ever come out of the region, and this powerhouse red is a poster child for that.  You can buy a great Roussillon or a mediocre Cabernet for this kind of price…easy choice for us.

Mount Etna: The Awakening Continues

If you ask people dialed into the wine industry what’s the hottest new place to find exciting wines, Sicily’s Mount Etna will get a lot of votes.  It isn’t a new area.  The appellation got its DOC way back in 1968 and century old vines are not uncommon as are, sadly, terraced vineyards that have been long abandoned.  But there are exciting things happening now in terms of quality and the produce of the local varietals, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, is finding many fans.
The wines are unique in profile yet seem hauntingly familiar and strangely compelling.  The textures are relatively supple and this particular mountain expresses its terroir of varied soilscapes (it is after all an active volcano) as a melange of supple tufo mineralities.  We are sold on the region and have found lots of very interesting wines over the last 15 years or so including the wines of Giuseppe Russo with the Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso ‘a Rina 2016 being one of the finest value plays yet in this emerging category.
Giuseppe Russo, a former pianist, took over the family estate in 2005 and is now farming organically.   ‘A Rina is their ‘entry cuvee’ made the old fashioned way with natural yeasts, no refrigeration, hand punch downs, and no fining or filtration.  It’s pretty ‘natural’ stuff without any of the funk or oxidation that affect so many such wines.  It is a round, easy, flavorful beverage with great purity of fruit and soft tannins (seemingly a common thread for Nerellos).
The press seems to agree on this one.  James Suckling says, “Cranberries, boysenberries, red licorice, fresh herbs and some tobacco. The pure fruit character comes through more here than the other single-vineyard bottlings this year, while the tannins are softer, more compact and more velvety. Intense and long on the finish. 94 points.”
Similar kudos from Wine Spectator’s Alison Napjus, “Fresh earth and mineral notes provide an aromatic overtone for flavors of ripe cherry and strawberry fruit in this well-knit and chewy, medium-bodied red. Fresh and creamy, with hints of dried fig, anise and herb lingering on the finish…92 points.” 
Let your Etna immersion start here, this one, as you would expect, is also very food-friendly.  Is Nerello going to be ‘the next big thing’?
Frankly it wouldn’t surprise us, especially as more producers of this quality hit the market.

A DAY IN THE LIFE: THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

For all the folks that stick their heads in the tasting area and say things to us like “I want your job” or “… must be nice” we like to offer up a little perspective every so often.  First off, don’t get us wrong, we love what we do.  We meet interesting, passionate people.  We get to try a lot of things most people won’t, and learn something every day.  Plus being in a wine shop is considerably safer than putting out oil rig fires, logging, or catching crab in the North Pacific.   We know that.

But for those that think all we sit around and do is taste First Growth Bordeaux, rare Grand Cru Burgundies, and limited production California Cabernets, it’s not the case.  In 40 years in the business, I don’t ever remember saying anything like ‘what ‘aia’ should we taste next…Sassicaia, Ornellaia, or Solaia.’  That simply isn’t our world.   But we do put our palates on the line every day to protect your table by finding the best wines and wine deals we can.

Fortunately there is very little bad wine in the world any more.  But there is an ocean of passable, insipid, or manipulated juice that someone is tasked with trying to sell us.  We could go on a rather extensive rant at this point about the appalling lack of professionalism that exists in the industry, but we will save that for another day.  Simply put, we love nothing better than finding that proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’.  But you have to sometimes go through a rather dreary haystack to find it.  Sometimes you go through that haystack and there isn’t a needle at all.   Sure, there are great days, but also a lot of not-so-great days.  But we have chosen the task of being a filter for our customers.

There are many ways to find wine, including traveling to large, far away comprehensive shows to see mass quantities of labels all together.  There are also brokers that work the ‘back side’ of the business, helping some producers who made some bad marketing decisions on the front side of the biz, to move out some juice.  This particular sample came from one of our more trusted ‘back door’ purveyors from whom we have gotten some pretty killer deals in the past.

All we are going to say about this wine in terms of identity is that it is a Paso Robles Zinfandel from a winery whose juice we have sold before.  As we always do, we didn’t look at any of the ‘stats’ before we tasted this wine.  We simply took a quick whiff and a sip to see if there was enough there to look deeper.  As it was, there was a curious combination of elevated acidity and volatile acidity, two aspects that are typically mutually exclusive.  So for curiosity’s sake, we did some light digging.

Wine chemistry can be pretty boring to most folks outside the cellar and it is not something we talk about in depth as a rule.  But in this case the chemistry was the story.  The label stated 16.9% alcohol by volume, which will be disturbing to some folks, especially considering there is a bit of leeway on that alcoholic statement by law (as much as 1.5%).  So now there is a possibility it could be pushing 18%! We have had wines with some pretty high alcohols that were balanced, but that is extreme.

Reading on, the stat sheet noted that there was still 1% residual sugar in the wine as well.  That means there could have been another .5% alcohol on top of the searing amount the was already there had it totally fermented (the yeasts that drive fermentation often die at these advanced levels of alcohol so they don’t finish the job).  These grapes must have been closer to raisins.

In cases of over-the-top ripeness there is a natural tendency for the acidity to drop precipitously.  A ballpark standard measurement for ph in red wines runs somewhere between 3.4 and 3.7.  At this level of ripeness, there could well have been a ‘4’ in that number naturally, presuming the wine didn’t collapse on itself altogether.  Odd enough at face value, this wine should have been goo, but curiously was not.   As we read further, we noted that the stated ph in this wine was closer to 3.1, more akin to a German Riesling than anything else.

This alcohol/acid balance does not occur naturally in nature, which suggests some mad science.  In most cases California winemakers would acidify the wine back to more appropriate levels by adding tartaric acid (yeah, they do that), maybe even add a little water.  It would take a pretty big tweak to get this wild thing back to normal levels, but given the finished ph the poor winemaker must have dropped the whole bag of tartaric into the vat.

There was still time to abort.  Sometimes the creativity in dealing with uncooperative fermentations can have remarkable consequences.  In effect, the whole ‘Prisoner’ saga started with an unfinished fermentation that was blended with other lots to create something unique that became a market sensation.  In this case, however, the winery chose instead to bottle this bizarre brew under their own label.

In the sell sheet we got, the claim was made that this wine had never been sold for under $38.  That is entirely possible as it isn’t far fetched to presume that this odd duck probably sold very little if at all!  There were places along the way where a different decision would have made this wine work in some manner.  But that didn’t happen.  Now, this scary ‘Frankenwine’ is on the selling block at a hugely reduced price.  Brokers will ultimately find a way to move this along.  Then it will be out there, somewhere, most likely in some sort of ‘wine club’ scenario where it all gets mailed out at once.  Be afraid.