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.

 

 

TANNAT’S TIME HAS COME…in URUGUAY

Tannat doesn’t have a lot of champions out in the wine world.  While it is the staple grape of the relatively obscure appellation of Madiran in western France, and there are some skilled practitioners there crafting big, chewy, substantial reds, there are far too many course, ferociously tannic examples out there for the grape to ever become a ‘mainstream’ favorite.  It is not grown very many places.  For some reason, however, Tannat was selected as the poster child for Uruguay’s reds.  Here the grape seems to have a completely different personality and the Garzon Tannat Single Vineyard Uruguay 2015 is a best of breed example demonstrating what we are talking about.

The versions from this part of the world have a sense of refinement rare for the varietal and Garzon, by far the biggest ‘dog’ in Uruguayan viticulture, has taken it to a new level.    Weighty and full flavored, big with a surprising level of polish, there are plenty blueberry and mulberry fruit notes to be enjoyed here, with underlying accents of minerality.  It’s a fine tipple and expresses itself in a way we hadn’t really considered for Tannat.

The Garzon Tannat Single Vineyard Uruguay 2015 has raised a few eyebrows besides ours, garnering a Wine Spectator 91, Wine Enthusiast 91 and James Suckling 92.  Sucklings comments, though characteristically brief, to paint the correct picture, “This is round and very silky with a lovely texture and intensity. Full body, round and polished tannins. Lots of blueberry, cherry and hints of mineral and stone.” Doesn’t sound like a typical Tannat but then it isn’t typical compared to most people’s experience and it’s well worth the $25.98 price tag.

If you are still afraid, you can get into their very tasty, the Garzon Tannat Reserve Uruguay 2016 (Suckling 92, $14.98) offers a lower cost ticket into the wonderful world of Uruguayan Tannat.  Sucklings notes are again enthusiastic, “Iodine, ink, tar, crushed stones and dark plum essence. This has all the hallmarks of a fruity Tannat, but it’s in no way too much. It combines a lovely firm tannin backbone with tangy acidity, which carries all the way to the savory finish.”  In truth we think the ‘Single Vineyard’ is the star but the ‘Reserve’ is a superb value not only among Uruguayan Tannats but all red wines in this price range.  Thanks to Senor Garzon, the time has come for you to fire up the grill and get a little Tannat in your life.

YET ANOTHER KILLER 2016 CHIANTI VALUE: CASTELLO DI VOLPAIA

Castello di Volpaia has been on our radar for a long time.  We have, at one time or another, sold their black label Riserva, and specialty bottlings Coltasala and Balifico.  But we can’t remember a time the ‘regular’ Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico turned in a performance like this.  Hey, this is a good house that has a solid track record and an occasional ‘home run’ (their 2015 Riserva was #3 on Wine Sectator’s Top 100 last year…of course it had been sold out for months).

But an exceptional vintage like 2016 has the power to lift the level of all wines great and small and put this ‘little’ wine into a special place.   The Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico  is usually a pretty good utilitarian choice, but this time around this 2016 is touching another level.  As we have explained a few times, the scores for this wine are typically going to be influenced lower by the fact that there are a number of upper tier selections from the same house for scribes to review.  But the fact that everybody gave this wine a nice ‘number,’ and even nicer comments, speaks volumes.

For our part, we’ll say that the rounder texture, lift, and darker fruit component, as well as the easy-to-swallow price ($17.98), made this a must.  Here are quick hits on the critic’s words,

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media : “The 2016 Chianti Classico is all class. Fresh, floral and beautifully lifted, the 2016 offers a terrific expression of the estate in its mid-weight personality. All the elements meld together in this effortless, classy wine from the family. The 2016 is quite accessible today, but it also has enough brightness to age nicely for a number of years. What a pretty wine it is… 91 Points”

Monica Larner, robertparker.com: “Showing ripe fruit and rich intensity, the 2016 Chianti Classico (made with 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot) would pair nicely next to pasta with extra cheese grated on top. This wine is bright and fruit-forward with the fresh acidity to cut though the fat in cheese, butter or cream. The tight and focused nature of the wine’s sharp berry flavors would also make a perfect contrast to the natural sweetness in those ingredients. This is always a great food wine, but this vintage is even better poised to match your favorite Italian dishes…90+ points!”

James Suckling: “Aromas of cherries, dried strawberries and red plums. Medium to full body, round and ripe tannins and a nice, fresh finish. Drink now….92 points.”

Decanter Magazine: “…Merlot is included to make it more approachable, but it still has the potential to age. Red berries and earth notes reveal themselves slowly, with perfumed violet nuances showing up on the palate. Firm but refined tannins hold it all together, and the finish lingers with appetizing  minerality…91 points”

Another superb ‘go-to’ from Chianti in 2016…enough said.

OUR FAVORITE NEW (TO US) PROSECCO

Prosecco has been gaining popularity over the last decade or so, but the wide variety of styles and price points makes it a little difficult to get a feel for any particular wine by virtue of the label. Sure they are principally made from the grape Glera and typically bulk fermented. But beyond that it’s anybody’s guess how sweet or aggressively fizzy any individual selection might be just from looking at the bottle. As we have learned, there are a number of very appealing selections out there at a variety of price points.

Of course any time you have a category, somebody will ask you what the best one is. Admittedly in our case, since we taste so much, that answer could vary over time. But certainly right now our first choice is the Loredan Gasparini Asolo Prosecco Brut Superiore NV.   It is the most singularly impressive Prosecco we have had in quite some time. The area of Trevigi itself is no newcomer, having been known for wine production since the 1300s and even being praised by the historian Bonifacio in 1590. But the real story here starts in 1973 when current owner Giancarlo Palla took the reigns. Clearly the exceptional quality of the site is reflected in this clean, bright, elegant Prosecco.

The bead is sleek, the bubbles are fine, and the attack is not too aggressive. The wine itself is at the driest end of the spectrum for the genre and the clean, refined fruit, elegant mousse, and lingering, fresh finish play like a lighter on its feet, user-friendly version of a fine Champagne. That was a lot for us to find in a wine that sells for less than $14, we aren’t trying to oversell it. The estate makes a number of other still wines, and we didn’t find any magical reviews.

But at some point the origins in the Asolo DOCG Superiore subzone seems to have made its mark on the finished wine and this is deceptively polished. Suffice it to say that this is a well made Prosecco that can play to a more sophisticated audience while being sensibly priced.  That alone is good reason to pay attention to this quiet little find.

A GENTLEMEN’S COTES DU RHONE

You can’t stop Bernard Magrez, you can only hope to contain him.  The guy built a formidable business, sold it and started buying Bordeaux chateaux.  He owns four Grand Cru classes in Bordeaux including the jewel, Pape Clement, as well as several other properties in the region.  But that wasn’t enough, so he now has a world-wide enterprise that includes efforts from Napa Valley, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Morocco, as well as other areas of France.

His enterprises have been very successful because he has a good eye for terroirs and has Michel Rolland on his speed dial.  Perhaps the most significant aspect that ‘all things Magrez’ seem to have is a well measured, supple, engaging profile that one can count on in everything they produce. Bernard realized a long time ago that people liked to drink smooth, fruit driven, supple wines and that style has been the common theme through all of his wines no matter where in his far flung portfolio they come from.

He also had the vision to market his wines under one important branding umbrella.  He goes about marketing his juice more like Louis Vuitton sells designer goods than the typical corporate alcohol purveyor.  He made sure that his name on the bottle meant something and the Magrez has come to be synonymous polished, integrated, elegant wines emphasizing sleek, tender fruit and well integrated, ripe structure.  We have even kind of coined the verb ‘to Magrez’, meaning to take something vinous and refine it to an exceptional degree.

Apparently in need of a new conquest, Bernard took his talents to the Rhone Valley and ‘Magrezzed’ a couple of parcels of Grenache and Syrah into a Cotes du Rhone Villages that can play to a crowd of folks wearing Ferragamo shoes and Hermes ties.  We’re pretty sure there has to be some credit given to the marvelous 2016 vintage.  The quality of the fruit matters even to a magician like Magrez and, as we and others have said repeatedly, 2016 is something special in that regard.  But the level of integration and harmony to this wine, particularly given the sometimes more rustic origins of the Cotes du Rhone, are definitely a consistent and significant part of the ‘house style’ of Magrez.

The Bernard Magrez Mon Cotes du Rhone Villages 2016 is the first go-round we have seen in the Rhone for them, and we have been dealing directly with the company for some years now (which also helps us save on the price as we direct import it).  The Magrez stamp here is unmistakable.  Plush, sleek, fresh and smooth, Magrez even puts ‘mon’ (French for ‘my’) in the name, further putting his personal touch on it.  This is the ‘Magrez experience’ and, believe us, it works as well in this part of the world as everywhere else.

The nose billows subtly integrated notes of plum, violet, mulberry, and an insistent minerality.  As it enters the palate, it is sweet, supple, expansive, harmonious, and beautifully proportioned.  The descriptors and texture are curiously closer to a weighty, mid-range Burgundy than your typical, chewy “Cotes du Rhone”, but that is the Magrez way.  As such, it is also a consummate value at a mere $14, definitely a wine that plays above its station.

Magrez is pretty tight-lipped about sourcing or winemaking, preferring that the results speak for themselves.  That it does that eloquently now, and likely will five years from now.  There were few scraps of commentary, though this piece from James Suckling makes the point quite well.  “Attractive aromas of plums and dark berries with hints of violets and burnt orange. Medium body, lightly dusty tannins and a juicy, flavorful finish. A satisfying and delicious Rhone red. Drink now. 92 Points!” 

“Satisfying and delicious”, indeed. This is a classic example of why one of our chief operating philosophies is to seek out ‘little wines’ from top flight producers.  Such folks simply have higher standards and work at an elite level on everything they do.  They don’t know any other way, and the results show.  Bernard Magrez is certainly one of those people.  Supplies are finite so make your move early.

Vinho Verde a Cut Above

If you have ever been to Portugal, the whole idea of Vinho Verde (literally the term means ‘green wine’) is completely ingrained in the culture.  The genre essentially exists to ‘serve,’ delivering a crisp, clean, vibrant wine to drink on the patio, along the shore, or with a plate of seafood.  In most of its manifestations it is typically a functional wine, made more to wash down nibbles and not necessarily to be contemplated to any great degree.  All of that works fine in Portugal.  But when you get back here and aren’t sitting in a café at the beach, most of the wines come off as simple, one-dimensional, and yeoman.  While we love the concept of that all-purpose, crisp, vibrant white to go with all manner of fare, there has to be more.

Ambience, and the fact that most vinho verdes are laughably cheap in Portugal, do a lot to contribute to the Vinho Verde experience.   It is simply ‘happy wine’ to be quaffed with gusto.  On this side of the pond there needs to be some separation.  Only a few examples are any more than just ‘functional white wine’.  But a few rise to the next level and raise the bar for the entire genre.

Those are good enough to make people take them seriously because they not only provide that clean counterpoint to a wide variety of nibbles, but they have something to say on their own.  That is a small group of wines, but those best examples take you beyond something functional and forgettable into something that has broader applications.

Some years ago we ran across Soalheiro from the northernmost point of Portugal, quite near Galicia in fact, clearly a winery that took their business a lot more seriously than most.  It was evident they were working to infuse much more character in their wines.  Our first experience with them was an Alvarinho (what the Portuguese call Albarino) some years ago.  It was one of the best ‘Alvarinhos’ we had ever had outside of Spain.

By comparison, and we’re presuming it has something to do with the more inland vineyard location, the Portuguese model shows a little less salinity but a touch more of a floral and honeyed aspect.  Absolutely delicious and lifted, the Soalheiro Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2017 functions like a deluxe version of the genre and takes it to a new level.

Wine Advocate says of this perennial winner, “The 2017 Alvarinho is dry…colloquially known as the “classico,” the flagship unoaked Alvarinho, is typically one of the finest values in Vinho Verde. It ages effortlessly. It’s concentrated and structured. Plus, with 100,000 bottles produced, there’s enough of it to make it a little easier to acquire than some specialty bottlings. Sourced from 25-year-old vines, this shows off that bit of “Soalheiro Green,” as I like to call it, then adds a big finish and a concentrated mid-palate to accompany the herbs. Ripe, fruity and surprisingly accessible this year, this shows very well from the get-go… 92 Points!

We were also quite excited with this new (to us anyway) value offering from Soalheiro, both made and priced like other Vinho Verdes.  This one is a blend of Alvarinho and Louriero grown in granite soils and harvested by hand into small crates.  Cold nights, slow fermentation in stainless steel, this is a lively, crisp, perhaps more casual offering but, again, a joy in the glass.  Good notes from Advocate on the Soalheiro Allo Vinho Verde 2017 as well, “This is another punch-above-your-weight wine from Vinho Verde in general and Soalheiro in particular. It’s not quite as deep as the monovarietal Alvarinho, but it has fine concentration for an inexpensive blend nonetheless. Plus, there’s that little bit extra in those other areas—flavor and aromatics. Then, there’s the acidity… 91 Points.”

The category provides an outstanding choice for aperitif and lighter cuisine (particularly shellfish) during the warmer times of the year.  The Soalheiro has been a star around here for some time, the ‘Allo’ clearly destined to be one.

 

IT’S ROSSO TIME: LISINI ROSSO DI MONTALCINO

As you have probably gathered if you have read enough of our rants, 2016 has been a generally very good vintage in Europe and ‘lights out’ in certain regions like Bordeaux and the southern Rhone.  Tuscany is one of those ‘lights out’ areas as our tastings have shown.  We have had spectacular Chiantis and the market is anxiously awaiting the big dogs from Piedmont, Bolgheri, etc.   As an adjunct to the highly anticipated Brunellos coming two years down the road, we have come across the most remarkable crop of Rosso di Montalcinos we can recall from the 2016 vintage, and they are here now.

Yeah, we are fully aware that we are fighting convention.  A lot of consumers don’t take Rossos seriously, like they are some unwanted stepchild or byproduct.  Believe what you want, we’ve had a number of Rossos in 2016 that are better than the Brunellos are most years, and ceretainly more appealing.

It is simply a function of the 2016 vintage.  In Tuscany, the reds have brighter profiles and more flesh, taking them quite literally to another level.  If you tried any of the Collosorbo Rosso 2016 we featured a while back, you already know what we are talking about.  Now our toughest decision is figuring out which ones to put one the floor out of the uncanny number of outstanding examples we have encountered.

Even being as picky as we are being, Lisini is definitely one of the stars.  Lisini is a highly regarded house in the first place, and has been for a long time.   But while the scribes rush to present their opinions on all of the top-line Brunellos, the Rossos are largely ignored.  In 2016 that would be  a mistake.  This wine has all the trappings of a big time Brunello with a rich, layered fruit core, emerging aromatics of confectionary cherry, mineral and anise, and well integrated, ripe tannins.  You literally couldn’t design them any better.

The texture is perhaps the most noticeable difference with the 2016 Rossos vis a vis other vintages of Rosso or even Brunello.  The wines are round and seamless from front to back, with surprisingly tender edges for their relative youth all as a function of this unique year where the wines are at once plush and light on their feet.  There are vineyards designated for Rosso at Lisini, all from the same missal material as the Brunello.  There can also be some declassified Brunello juice in the mix though, in such an exceptional vintage, we doubt much got selected out.

It’s not like the Lisini Rosso di Montalcino 2016 needed more.  It’s pretty loaded, though it will differ from the ‘big dog’ by virtue of its accessibility.  We’ve never tasted Rossos like these.  They are friendlier than the 2010s and fresher than the 2007s, and in our minds perform a couple of notches higher than either.  Given the sourcing and vintage, this is a very classy wine for the modest fare of $24.98.  The only issue is that some of your friends may not be suitably impressed by something that says ‘rosso’ on it, until they taste it that is.

Value Sauv. Blanc from a Budding Superstar Winemaker

We pretty much gushed when we first discovered the wines of Bibiana González Rave Pisoni.  We could repeat her saga of making wine on three continents before she finally settled in the Golden State.  She has many irons in the fire this days and we can say that have never had a wine from her, in whatever price range it was, that wasn’t top flight.

In a few words, ‘this girl is on fire’, making a style that is deeply expressive, full flavored, energetic and precise.  Now granted, that would seem to be expected of the many of her wines that are in the $70-80 price range, though they do excel in that arena vis-a-vis the competition.  But what we find most enticing, in line with our philosophy of seeking out the ‘little’ wines from the top talents, is her value-driven Alma de Cattleya line.  We have been particularly enamored  with the Sauvignon Blanc which, at $16.98, is arguably the best buy among California Sauv. Blancs.

Her just released Alma de Cattleya Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2018 is, once again, a well put together, vigorously expressive mouthful of lime, guava, pear, fig, and fresh herbs.  The fruit ‘pops’ up front and expands across the palate, but the tension and acidity keep it humming right through the finish.  It is an attention-getting and beautifully fresh example of the breed.

The only potential problem with the wine is that it is made to be the best Sauv. Blanc it can be and true to type.  That probably means it will likely not get its due when judged in some 100 example mega-tasting the media often conducts which favors blowsier and more idiosyncratic efforts because they stand out in a crowd.

But one-on-one, this is a little value gem.  It’s in a straight up, juicy style with impressive purity, plus that insistent underlying hum that differentiates it from the rank and file of the genre. This is the ‘hot ticket’ among go-to Sauvignon Blancs.  Even though we can’t necessarily expect big ‘numbers’, knowledgeable insiders are snapping it up quickly.