SERIOUS VALUE RED? JUST SAY SUL

We spoken over the years about the South African enigma and why, after all this time, does the category only move when there is some promotion.  It seems any kind of continuous market traction is fleeting.  We realized the same could be said about Portugal to some extent.  Sure, in the 60s and 70s everyone was drinking fizzy rosés, then there was Periquita, followed by dry Duoros sometime later.  But, other than the tried and true dessert areas of Port and Madeira, there seems to be little lasting interest. 

There are the occasional hits.  We have done well with certain Vinho Verdes and upscale versions like those from Soalheiro.  They sell and people like them.  But in the end people don’t come in and ask where the Portuguese section is.  Granted, historically, overall quality has been, um, sporadic. Unfamiliar varietals and regions don’t make it any easier.  The Portuguese government has gotten involved in raising the quality levels overall, and the ‘hit’ ratio has definitely increased.  But the prices of some of the potential ‘game changers’ severely limits their potential audience. With all due respect to Bruno Prats, wines like an $80 Chryseia aren’t likely to get a lot of new wine drinkers to take a flyer on it for the sake of learning. 

For our part, the door is always open.  Bring us your Alentejos, Daos, Bairradas and dry Douros and, if they excite, we will deliver the message.  Touriga Nacional, Tinto Roriz, Sausao, Baga, Trincadeira,are not household names, but they can make compelling wine under the right circumstances.  To carry the message, there needs to be something that those people will want to give a whirl.  Something that is character-filled, delicious, and laughably inexpensive has a much better chance of turning heads towards Portugal.  We have found one of those. 

Heredade de Sao Miguel is owned by the  Relvas family who purchased it in 1997.  It is located in Alentejo, an appellation southeast of Lisbon almost to the Spanish border, and within the subregion of Redondo at the northeastern end of the appellation.  The estate it self covers 175 hectares, 35 of which are planted to vines setting soils of loam and schist, with 97h/a planted to cork trees.  They also dedicated part of the property to reviving and breeding of near extinct local species, the ‘Mirandela’ donkey and the ‘Garrano’ horses of Gerês.

The story isn’t complicated.  The family farms sustainably and makes the wine in an efficient ‘minimalist’ facility they built in the middle of the vineyard.  They state that all of the fruit in Sul (Portuguese for ‘south’) comes from the estate.  These folks are all about the land and their aim with all of their wines (they make 10 different bottlings) is to showcase the unique terroir of this far-from-the-crowd region.  We were presented with a number of their wines a few weeks back. We kept coming back to this one for its plush texture, unabashed purity, and honest flavors.  We asked the question, “how much did you say this was?” more than once. 

If there are wines that can carry the banner for Portugal and make a lasting impression, this is certainly one of them.  The blend here is 50 % Aragonez (the local name for Tempranillo), 30% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Trincadeira (indigenous varietal also known as Tinta Amarela in the Douro…yeah this part can get a little complicated), and 5% good old Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine is cold-soaked then vacuum pressed and fermented in stainless steel where it sees some exposure to staves plus 10% in 400L barrels.  Sure we can do the geek-speak, but that is not the story here.

The unfettered juice is the star, and the Herdad de Sao Miguel delivers well above its station with a mouthful of dark red fruit tinged with spice and dusty notes, relatively low acidity and modest ripe tannins.  The pleasing mid-palate lots of inviting fruit and it’s very Portuguese in that it’s a delicious wine on the table alongside some grilled meats and some lively conversation.  In short order, you’ll wonder where that bottle went and, at $10, there are few financial consequences.  It’s a fine ambassador for Alentejo, and Portugal, and a great choice for a go-to value ‘house red’ without qualification. 

THE ‘SAC’ IS BACK

It seemed like only yesterday (it was actually November, 2017) we were excitedly jabbering on about the return of one of our favorite go-to Riojas after a long absence from the marketplace.  At the time, probably a decade or so ago, we were presented with the Valsacro Dioro 2001.  It was love at first sip and we kept a few bottles back for ourselves (though not enough) that we consumed with gusto over the next few years. 

Our reunion offer that aforementioned November involved the 2010 Vinsacro Dioro (which had subsequently been renamed Vinsacro for reasons unknown to us).  The 2010 was a most pleasant déjà vu because it was the same fruit driven, polished, creamy, supple, hedonistic red we had remembered from our first experience all those years ago. 

The first time around (the 2001) we don’t remember seeing any press at the time.  But the 2010 had also caught the attention of Wine Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez who launched a rather detailed piece describing this unique estate in Rioja Baja that had been owned by the same family for four generations.  The short story is that the vineyard is up to a century old and the grapes are planted to a field blend that the family refers to as ‘Vidau’.  The fruit is hand harvested into small crates and the Dioro goes through four separate steps in the selection process, ending up as a ‘best barrels’ cuvee. 

Luis’ notes say, “The 2010 Vinsacro Dioro opens to an explosion of flowers and ripe blueberries that is very perfumed. It feels quite modern and aromatic with well-integrated oak and a luscious palate. This is produced from a field blend they call Vidau, which, in their case it is approximately 50% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo and a myriad of other grapes like Graciano and even Monastrell…92 points.”   Yeah it’s that whole explosion of berries and ‘luscious palate’ that keeps us coming back, plus we were selling at more than 50% off Luis’ stated ‘retail’ price. 

Good times were had by all then, and when we waltzed through a slug of the winery’s 2015 Vinsacro Dioro in August of the following year.  Similar story, 92 point, shamelessly engaging, supple Rioja redolent with dark plum/blueberry fruit tinged by spice, lead pencil, notes of cocoa being sold for a fraction of its original retail.  Again, here’s an extremely pretty wine from a clearly committed producer, from a great vintage, for pennies on the dollar?  We love the story line…it’s so Winex!

But mostly we love the wine.

So when we were approached with the 2005, another great vintage (this one was still labeled Valsacro), the choice was easy.  Where had this wine been for the last decade plus? No clue, but it is in a verygood place now.  Thanks to the additional time in bottle the 2005 Valsacro Dioro is a harmonious, hedonistic marvel.  We found reviews from back in the day, dueling ‘92s’ from Vinous’ (then IWC) Josh Raynolds and Advocate’s reviewer at the time Jay Miller, significantly different palates.

From Jay Miller, June, 2010, “The 2005 Dioro was produced from a stricter selection and was aged in new French oak for 12-14 months. A saturated purple color, it displays a brooding bouquet of wood smoke, pencil lead, espresso, truffle, and blackberry. Dense and loaded on the palate, it has gobs of ripe black fruit, excellent balance, and a lengthy, pure finish. It will continue to blossom over the next 3-4 years and have a drinking window extending from 2014 to 2025…92 points. (list $57). “

From Josh Raynolds, September, 2011, “(aged in new French oak): Glass-staining ruby. Extremely perfumed, oak-accented nose displays cherry-vanilla and blackberry preserves, with a sexy floral note and building spiciness. Full-bodied and velvety, offering palate-coating flavors of macerated cherry, dark berries and vanilla bean. Finishes very long and sweet, with persistent spiciness and a hint of smoke. An extremely attractive and balanced example of the modern style92 points.”

The plush, creamy texture, integrated fruit and terroir components, superb balance, and silky finish are like few wines in the marketplace at any price.  We have consumed a good bit of this already and have plans to do a lot more. Once again we are able to offer this absolutely delicious wine, bottle age included, for under $20! 

We have stocked a bit more for ourselves this time around because the stuff doesn’t seem to last long in the cellar (not that it wouldn’t if we left it alone).  The 2005 Valsacro Rioja Dioro 2005 one to buy by the case.

The same could be said for the 2015 Vinsacro Rioja Dioro, of which we recently got a reload. The short story here is that this is another offering from this very appealing house that was a Wine Advocate 92 for this wine, at a list price of $65, only we are also selling it for a ridiculous$19.98!

SIERRA CANTABRIA UNICA 2014: MUY TASTY

The Eguren brothers have their fingers in a lot of pies including Dominio de Eguren in Manchuela, the single vineyard estate Senorio de San Vincente, and Teso la Monja, an estate they started after they sold their previous Toro project, Numanthia. Yeah the boys are busy (they currently operate six wineries), but it all centers around the original property founded five generations earlier in 1870, Sierra Cantabria. They started as growers that for decades sold their grapes to other wineries and they still see themselves as viticulturists first. But they clearly know what to do with the juice.

Sierra Cantabriamakes a number of different wines but this series (which started in 2008 if memory serves) has been perhaps one of the best performers all things considered. Made from vines planted in 1985 in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, the wine itself is made from 98% Tempranillo with a pinch (2%) ‘older vine Grenache’. The wine sees 24 months in 60% French and 40% American oak, 30% of which is new. There’s no pretense at ‘traditional’ styling here even though it qualifies under the law.

This is a big, ripe mouthful of plush, ripe black fruits, spice cake, earthy minerality and hints of smoke. The bottle age is clearly sufficient to take whatever edge off this wine it might have had, and it now presents itself as an open, fruit driven wave of flavor. It’s very well put together but in a more ‘bottoms up’ style that doesn’t require a lot of thinking. In other words lush, easy to like stuff. The critics seemed to like it well enough. Both Vinous’ Josh Raynolds and Wine Spectator hung 92s on this one. Raynolds said, “…Sappy and focused on the palate, offering juicy raspberry, cherry and spicecake flavors that put on weight with air. Shows excellent precision on the clinging finish, which features sweet red fruit liqueur and floral elements and harmonious, silky tannins.”

Wine Spectator’s Thomas Mathews offered, “Vanilla, sandalwood and cedar notes lend a spicy accent to the cherry, tangerine, underbrush and licorice flavors in this round red. Shows good density, with well-integrated tannins and lively acidity imparting focus. Tempranillo and Graciano. Drink now through 2026.”

The highest praise, and a bit of explanation, came from Jeb Dunnuck, “The 2014 Sierra Cantabria Reserva Única is a cellar selection of the best barrels of the Reserve, selected with the idea of making a big, rich wine that can drink well in its youth yet also age. Blackberry, blueberry, violet, peach pit, graphite, and lead pencil notes all flow to a rich, medium to full-bodied, beautifully balanced red that has good acidity, fine tannin, and a great finish. This sexy, decadent, layered beauty shouldn’t be missed! …94 points.”

It is absolutely “big, rich wine that can drink well in its youth” which will definitely make a few new friends for Spain but not at the exclusion of long time fans of Rioja.

EVENING LAND’S SALEM WINE CO PINOT NOIR EOLA-AMITY 2017

The whole story of the evolution of Seven Springs Vineyard over the last four decades has been a varied and interesting one reaching back to the ‘formative years’ of Oregon Pinot Noir.  But under the winemaking team of Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr, it may be that the best times are still ahead for Evening Land.  Certainly the wines under the primary label continue to get critical acclaim, and they are at the forefront of the ‘hey we make pretty darn good Chardonnay in Oregon these days’ movement as well.  Certainly their credentials are in order.  But this time around we are talking about a relatively new offering that provides a classic demonstration of why we pay a lot of attention to the ‘small’ wines from important producers.

The Salem Wine Company Pinot Noir Eola-Amity 2017 is a more attractively priced version of what these guys do regularly, produce Pinot Noirs that are pure, fruit driven, unfettered and expressive.  The ‘Eola-Amity’ comes from three vineyards that are dry-farmed, sustainable and bio-dynamic…Eola Springs, Rocky Hill and the ‘home turf’ itself, Seven Springs Vineyard.  The soils are all volcanic.  The grapes are destemmed, fermented only with the indigenous yeasts, and the juice sees an 18-month sojourn in neutral oak.

This doesn’t come off as a ‘junior’ version but rather a more direct expression of the pure, intense, spicy dark red fruit character that makes this vineyard a special place.  There plenty of fruit intensity, nice lift to the finish, and engaging cherry and dark berry flavors as the central theme.  This isn’t geared as a Cabernet substitute, but rather a well proportioned Pinot made by guys who love Pinot and its Burgundian manifestations, for people of like minds.  In that respect it succeeds admirably, attractive right out of the gate and pretty accessible price-wise at $22.98. 

If you need critical acclaim, we couldn’t find any.  This stuff is pretty new to the market (starting with the 2014) and will likely never get a huge score because it will usually be tasted by the press alongside the bigger, fussier, more famous bottlings that come from here.  If, however, you are looking for an expressive, user friendly, purposeful expression of Pinot Noir, the Salem Wine Company Pinot Noir Eola-Amity 2017 will do quite nicely.

BRIEFS 5-28-19

~~They grow Sauvignon Blanc in a lot of places world-wide, from the Loire to Australia, South Africa and the Americas.  But some of the most intriguing come from the high country of northeast Italy.  There’s a distinctive take on the varietal with aromas of tomato leaf, grapefruit, wild herbs, and yellow stone fruits.  The flavors are hauntingly insistent but also delicate.  When it’s on, it is a lovely and unique take on Sauvignon Blanc, pretty unlike anything else from this varietal.  Some of our favorites are Vie de Romans, Venica, and Venica, and Terlano’s Quarz.   In that vein of elite level, captivating, almost haunting ‘high country’ Sauvignons, add the Tiare Sauvignon Collio 2017, a beautiful example of exactly what we are talking about and a “tre bicchierre” selection from Gambero Rosso.

~~Not all Pinot Grigios are created equal, and some of them are even pink.  As many of you know, Pinot Grigio grapes actually have a pinkish tint.  Through a process called ramato, the Pinot Grigio grapes spend some extra time in contact with the skins which changes the phenolic feel of the wine in the mouth, adds a little punch to the mid palate and, depending on the length of the contact, imparts a pinkish hue to the wine itself.  There aren’t a lot of folks that do it this way and it takes a certain level of talent to pull it off.  But done right, it is a delicious, distinctive take on the varietal that most folks haven’t tried.   Definitely for adults, the Specogna Pinot Grigio Ramato Friuli Colli Orientali 2017 ($22.99) is a marvelous example of this style.  Who knew Pinot Grigio could be this interesting?

~~Vintages play an important part in most of what we do.  A new vintage of something is news in itself.  Not so for sparkling and fortified wines that are non-vintage.  So unless there is some sort of seasonal or event-related relevance, things like the Mikulski Cremant de Bourgogne, which we highlighted this year, the Perez Barquero Gran Barquero Amontillado Sherry that we highlighted last year, and the Lustau Palo Cortado Peninsula (that we highlighted a long time agoor the Drusian Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene Extra Drya house favorite that we have been selling for more than a decade, will be forgotten.  We’re going to use things like the ‘Briefs’ section to mention products like these again because the whole way wine is being marketed has changed.  In the past, there were conversations where walk-in consumers would ask about products and categories from people on the floor.  Buying online with a mouse click is a completely different dynamic.  Items like these were exciting enough for us to buy them initially, and still are.  No reason not to remind people about them once in a while and possibly introduce a few new folks that missed it the first time in the process.

DOMINE de la FOLIE RULLY 1ER CRU CLOS DU CHAIGNE BLANC

Most folks are familiar with the concept of supply and demand, where an increase in demand for a category that cannot substantially change its production will predictably cause a rise in acquisition costs.  White Burgundy is something of a poster child for this.  What used to buy a good Premier Cru will now get you only a village bottling and even those are quite a bit more than they used to be.  The solution has been to find the lesser known sections of the Cote d’Or, like Saint Romain and Saint Aubin where a top producer can make some pretty compelling wines, and the area didn’t necessarily command super-premium prices.  Sadly the ‘good stuff’ from such appellations has escalated over the last few years. 

What to do if you want great white Burgundy?  Look south to the top sources in the Cotes Chalonnaise.  One can still find the occasional domaine that is making exciting Chardonnay for considerably more palatable prices.  Rully, at the northern end of the Cote Chalonnaise, certainly offers some fine options.  According to the Wine Advocate’s William Kelley, Domaine de la Folie is one of those.  His notes, “Once renowned as the source of some of the appellation’s finest white wines, this 14-hectare domaine in Rully flies somewhat under the radar, but its pure and elegant offerings are still well worth seeking out. Classy but flavorful, they’re dependably delicious.”

Domaine de la Folie is unique in the Rully appellation in that it is the northernmost in the AC and its 32 acres of vines are the highest in elevation. Moreover, all but one of its vineyards are monopoles (which means the estate owns the entire vineyard).   Lastly, unlike the main body of vineyards in the central part of Rully to the south, this northern end of the Montagne de la Folie sits on the same vein of limestone as the commune of Puligny-Montrachet, just over three miles away. 

The estate has been in the care of the Noël-Bouton family for three centuries now.  The domaine’s two flagship holdings are facing east on the hill with the Rully 1er Cru Clos du Chaigne sitting next to but higher on the hill than the Rully 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques.  We sold the Clos St. Jacques last year but this time around, tasting the two side by side, the racier, more insistent Clos du Chaigne won the day, though both were impressive.  The Clos du Chaigne’s eight acres of vines were planted in 1971.  So you’ve got vines nearly a half-century old sitting in limestone soils facing east in an elevated exposure.  That’s a pretty impressive recipe for success.

The grapes are farmed lute resonee (which means they won’t do anything like spray unless it’s absolutely unavoidable) and the wine is raised roughly 60% in tank and 40% in oak, part of which is new.  The minerality and florality show in the nose with a little bit of a honeyed tone to broaden the spectrum.  In the mouth, you get apples, pears, a touch of honey, and well infused, delicate minerality, with plenty of flesh but a nice lift to the mid-palate and great drive through the finish.  The wines of Domaine de La Folie are decidedly classical in profile and the whites always put fresh fruit and clear minerality front and center.  The Domaine de La Folie Rully 1er Cru Clos du Chaigne 2017 is serious, character-filled white Burgundy and, in today’s heated market, rather a deal as well. 

GO FOR THE BOLD

It’s pretty common for sommeliers and even Masters of Wine to try their hand at winemaking.  The results have been, ahem, varied to say the least.  But if you try enough of them, you will eventually run across someone who ‘gets it’.  In this particular case, master Sommelier Chris Miller, and the winery he founded called Seabold Cellars, were sent our way by a sommelier friend here in the OC who thought we should check these out. 

Miller established Seabold in 2014 with the focus on producing small lot site-specific Burgundian and Rhône varietals from the Monterey Bay region. He believes that cooler is better for certain varietals and such vineyards produce balanced wines that showcase their origin more than their winemaking. Miller learned winemaking working with the folks at Gramercy Cellars, Brewer-Clifton and Melville.

The Seabold wines impressed as they were both tender and lifted, and each one showed a few nuances that were definitely site specific.  They were very pleasing examples of cool climate juice that showcased the style yet were tender enough and possessed enough flesh to be engaging in the glass rather than, as so many are, more ‘intellectually challenging’ then enjoyable.  Had we not already had quite a selection of serious wines in the $40-50 range, we certainly would have bit on these.  We still might.  But we couldn’t pass up the Bold wines which were superior stylistically and well priced given the juice.

The concept of Bold was rather unique.  First one must understand that, while a lot of people say the same thing, these guys really are about the dirt.  Part of their ‘mission statement’ is “…During the year, more time is spent in vineyards than the winery. Our winemaking is as hands-off as possible, respecting traditional techniques and practices without being beholden to them.”  It shows in the wines. 

Where Bold diverts from the typical ‘second line’ scenario is quite specific.  The Bold wines are not made from the leftovers of the Seabold wines, but rather are ‘first run’ efforts with vineyards the winery has not worked with before.  They like to get really comfortable with the vineyard before they slap a Seabold label on a wine with that designation,  and Bold is part of that “getting to know you” process. 

No one we know thinks of the Arroyo Seco area as a hotbed for Sauvignon Blanc.  But maybe that’s because they haven’t been looking in the right place.  Miller found Zabala Vineyards in one of the warmest subsections of this narrow west-facing valley shielded by the Santa Lucia Mountains.  Planted in 1972, it is one of Monterey County’s oldest vineyards with soils of sandy loam covered with round riverbed stones.  The vineyard is family-owned, impeccably cared-for, and certified organic.

The Bold Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc Monterey 2018 itself is an intriguing expression of the varietal.  There is plenty of richness in the herb-laced grapefruit, melon and pear fruit, plenty of freshness while the acids are not overly aggressive, and a remarkable sense of harmony.  It lacks the edgy bite that a lot of California Sauvignons possess and rather presents a rounder yet still lifted presentation of the varietal.  For under $20, it is an excellent choice and given the production (a mere 268 cases of wine) we’d consider this pretty much ‘insider trading’.

The same holds true for the Bold Wine Co. Pinot Noir Monterey 2017The story here seems typical of this producer, and focuses on the Balestra Vineyard which lies just north of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, on a very cold climate benchland property owned and farmed by a multi-generational family of farmers. Because it is closer to the valley to the sea, the wines from the property always show a certain bright, fruit-forward character which is often balanced out by a judicious inclusion of whole clusters during fermentation.

There’s a lovely texture here and a dusty, musky presentation of dark cherry and ripe cranberry fruit kissed with a little bit of woodsiness and some elements of spice.  For a generally savory Pinot, the edges are rounded and engaging and the wine has both flesh and lift to create a very pleasing experience in the glasss.  The terroir nuances rise above anything you can typically buy at this kind ofrprcie.  We think the ‘Bold’ wines present a pretty exciting option in a price range like this and there is legitimate excitement as to whether Miller has do with these in the purchases moving forwards.  They are certainly off to an impressive start given what we see here.  With only a few hundred cases this isn’t going to be a game changer for the market as a whole.  But it will certainly prove shrewd value ‘harvest’ for those that move quickly.

WELCOME BACK: MATTEO CORREGGIA ROERO ROSSO 2016

This was one of our favorite under-the-radar labels from back in the 90s when Corregia was part of the ‘new school’ Italian troupe under the Marco di Grazia banner. Corregia’s wines always had an engaging warmth and suppleness supported by ample dark fruits, gentle acidity and ripe tannins. He was thrust into winemaking at an early age when his father passed away in the ’80s, and he himself was killed in a vineyard accident in 2001. In between, he decided to bottle his own wine and developed a very captivating, generous style that won a lot of friends

A lot of his new school Barolista associates at the time, who created a bit of a sensation with using modern oak regimens in their winemaking, developed big reputations in the press. Corregia made his bones with more modest appellations like Roero, Barberas and Nebbiolos from sandier terroirs. After his death, the winery understandably lost some of its mojo, and we went quite a while without seeing much of the label here. Being presented the wine recently rekindled our interest in this lCorreggia and brought back memories as it is the same kind of honest, generous, palate caressing, bright red that we recall from the days of yore.

It is still a family affair with son Giovanni working with long-time winemaker Luca Rostagno, and mom, Ornella, handling the business and hosting. There are no secrets here. This is 100% Nebbiolo from a sandy parcel surrounded by a forest. All is harvested by hand and the finished wine sees six months in big barrels. We couldn’t find a review more recent on the Roero than 2012. But Correggia was never a media darling, especially given the high-profile folks he was associated with, just a guy who made juicy wines people enjoyed drinking.

The wine is the important thing and Correggia’s style was then, and is again, pleasing and comfortable with a supple core of dark cherry fruit augmented with floral notes and brown spice notes. The Matteo Correggia Roero Rosso 2016 is a wine to drink with gusto and, while you can get contemplative if you want to, that clearly isn’t the point here. Glad to have them back, and the vintage probably played right into the house style. Some folks out there don’t take wines labeled ‘rosso’ seriously. We say ‘respect the Rosso’.

HILLERSDEN ESTATE PINOT NOIR MARLBOROUGH 2016

We have been selling New Zealand Pinot Noirs since the 1993 vintage, prior to which we had no idea they even made Pinot Noir in New Zealand.  A Pinot Noir-centric Oregon purveyor went there and hand carried back things like Ata Rangi and Te Mata, and our impression was that this was clearly the start of something significant.  In the roughly quarter century that followed, the Kiwis have established themselves as an important Pinot Noir option in this marketplace.

Back then few here had a clear idea of the appellations or general lay of the land, but certain consistent profiles became apparently.  Generally New Zealand Pinots are cooler customers and a bit more savory.  Sometimes they can be downright sharp and green, perhaps just a bit too ‘cool climate’ for a lot of people’s tastes.  But the best examples have a more pronounced fruit core and more rounded edges, but still present their fruit in a more restrained, lifted, cooler-edged manner.  It is the ones that hit that happy medium of bright mulberry and dark cherry fruit with enough palate tenderness to give them a broader audience that really present the most viable and distinctive options for Pinot fans.

The best examples play to that, and Hillersden is a new face for us that offers a great look at a wine that is reasonably outgoing yet at the same time distinctly New Zealand.  The mulberry, plum and dark cherry fruit has both mineral and savory spice underpinnings, but also possesses a suppler palate-feel and somewhat softer edges to really give a good reckoning of the place without one having to forgive a touch of shrillness far too many other NZ reds have.

The combination in the Hillersden Estate Pinot Noir Marlborough 2016 makes for a compelling drink and the price point is relatively easy on the pocketbook.  In other words, we may have found a new player moving forward but this example certainly delivers.  Their claim is that they are the only family-owned, single estate producer in Wairu.

We had never heard of this producer before but that may have to do with the fact that their history only goes back to 2015.  They are in the upper Wairu Valley, which is a bit further inland and a bit warmer than many of the other Marlborough sites.  This would certainly help make the wine fleshier while still preserving the brightness of the flavors.  Winemaker Adam Kubrock actually grew up in Walla Walla and made Syrah and other reds but became enchanted with the cool climate winemaking Down Under.  This Pinot sees 10 months in 25% new French oak and all of the fruit is farmed sustainably.

MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T LET THE OLD WAYS DIE…

There seems to be a growing trend among some California winemakers to go back to the more balanced styles of California’s formative years in the ‘60s and ‘70’s.  During all this time Husch winery has been doing the same things and delivering clear stylistic examples that have been virtually unchanged the winery was founded in 1971. It claims to have been the first winery in the Anderson Valley.  In 1979 the Oswald family purchased the estate and the third generation to run the winery are currently at the helm.

We bring them up not to praise their Cabernet or Chardonnay, which are still well made, traditional styles of their respective genre.  But they are stars with two genres of wine that aren’t widely grown or even talked about in California.  They are delicious examples of their breed and ridiculously cheap by today’s overblown California standards.

Part of the juice for the Husch Dry Gewurztraminer Anderson Valley 2017 comes from vines planted in 1968 and the cool climate here suits the varietal like few places in the Golden State.  As such it is dry, crisp, delicate, spicy and ‘Gewurtzy’ without being overdone or clumsy.  Sometimes Gewurz can be a little ‘dumpy’ on the finish, but not this one.  Clean, bright, varietal with a subtle fruit and floral nose, delicate spice notes through the palate, and lift to the finish.  Fire this up with a holiday ham or any number of lighter preparations of fish or fowl, particularly with an Asian slant.

If you think talking about Gewurz is off the wall, their Husch Chenin Blanc Mendocino County 2018 is a marvelous throwback (though it’s not a throwback to them as they have always made it this way).  They started in 1984 and have been making one of the best in the state ever since.  Yeah, Chenin has a bad rap thanks to a lot of mass produced examples when the genre was widely popular in the ’70s.  But a well made Chenin still has a place at the table or on the porch.  We think a touch of sweetness is necessary to offset the blazing acidity in this varietal, and this is a super refreshing display of orange, peach and melon flavors with a hint of ‘stone’ and great cut to the finish.  It has the same kind of food versatility as their gewurz, and is, again, silly ‘cheap’.

Sure it’s ‘hipper’ to say you drink some semi-oxidized lab experiment under the banner of ‘natural wine’.  But we’d rather have something direct, precise, and that does exactly what it should.  There is precious little of these varietals made in California any more.  But even though they are ‘old school’ they are riveting examples of a time gone by.