ONE OF A KIND BARBERA SOURCE

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

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

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

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

THE PERFECT CABERNET?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DELICIOUS ‘OLD SCHOOL’ VOUVRAY FROM GUY SAGET

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

IN THE PINK, PART ONE: ROSE TIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OREGON CHARDONNAY 2.0: LINGUA FRANCA BUNKER HILL 2016

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

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

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

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

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

B. MILLET SANCERRE LE CHEMIN BLANC 2017-THE REAL DEAL

It is interesting in talking to our suppliers about the current high demand for Sancerre.  Many told us they can’t keep the stuff in stock because of overwhelming on-premise demand and that a number of purveyors simply don’t bring the wines out to show as a result.  This demand might also explain why we have had a tough time finding good, well-priced Sancerre.  Demand has pushed up the prices, and a lot of , ahem, less compelling examples are coming to market.  That is why finding on like this is noteworthy.

B. Millet, a 22 hectare estate based in Bué, is a third generation Sancerre producer run by husband and wife Betty and Franck Millet. In Sancerre, there is a mix of limestone and chalk terroirs. Bué is a top village in the region and the majority of the domaine’s white wine vineyards are located on the limestone that accentuates the minerality that Sancerre is famous for.

This is a classic, archetypal Sancerre that combines a core of bracing acidity and focused flinty minerality with aromatic citrus, grapefruit and herbal notes. The cellar regimen here is stainless steel for the Sancerre Blanc and the vineyard work is done by hand, with a rigorous green harvest during the summer. The resulting wine her has enough tenderness to the fruit to avoid being severe, but sufficient acidity to hum on the nicely on the palate.

The B. Millet Sancerre Le Chemin Blanc 2017  is the real deal, definitely strutting the clear signature of the region and yet at the same time ‘user friendly’.  Given what we have seen from this heated market over the last few years, not to mention some unfortunate supply problems thanks to Mother Nature, we found the price performance here to be compelling as well.

 

 THE NEVERENDING STORY

In a recent Wine Spectator, we read yet another article about how “the battle over (consumer) shipping could rage for years to come.” Yeah, and the sky is blue, the ocean is salty, and the problems in the Middle East aren’t likely to get resolved soon either.  Duh.  Must be a slow news week.

For as long as we have been involved with the industry there has been substantial resistance to addressing some sort of national policy with regards to wine shipments direct to consumers.  Every state has its own unique set of rules regarding alcoholic beverages and doggedly clings to those tenets in the face of the growing awareness of life across state lines, brought to you by the internet.

The arguments in favor of maintaining the status quo never seem to change either.  The ‘talking heads’ consistently put forth that the problem with having ‘open borders’ has to do with tax collection and minors.  Our take is that those are the easy targets for politicians who are simply protecting a source of donations in the wholesalers who directly benefit from maintaining the status quo of a well-managed legal monopoly.

Alcoholic beverage companies operating within a ‘closed system’, without any real competition from outside of their borders, are in a position to make silly amounts of money simply because they have that virtual monopoly. If you think about it, they are not unlike the bootleggers that most of the curious alcohol laws were created to thwart in the post-Prohibition era.  The wholesalers and retailers within a given boundary ‘don’t want anybody muscling in on their territory’.

If this all sounds like the dialogue for some 1930s gangster drama, it kind of is.  But instead of ‘tommy guns’ to deal with intruders, it’s a state’s parochial legislation which will cost sometimes prohibitive sums of money for outsiders to fight.  This we know from both observation and experience.  No other business has to deal with this sort of minefield, though the internet age is creating similar issues regarding sales tax.  In all of this, however, no one seems to be particularly concerned with consumers .

The point is that the issue will never be resolved because those entrenched in the various markets will continue to fund the political machine to protect their interests.  You can debate the 21st Ammendment vs. the Commerce Clause all you want (the diametrically opposed legal precedents that give rise to a debate in the first place).  Those within the particular states have absolutely no interest in doing anything else but fighting to block competition, nor in all fairness should they.  They don’t give a damn about the consumers’ right to do anything except buy their stuff.  In many cases they don’t even do a very good job in offering the pricing, products and service that would remove the consumers need to look elsewhere .

We’re certainly not going to solidify the definitive argument today.  We don’t expect there is one.  The debate has been raging for as long as we have been doing this and shows no sign of tapering off.  The position of one state or another may change, the intensity of the political saber-rattling increases or ebbs, but the situation itself will always exist as you have one side of the equation with absolutely no reason to accept or work for any kind of change.

Our question here is a simple one.  The discussions of consumers’ right to buy alcoholic beverages across state lines have been voluminous, often very heated, and we expect will be ongoing. But, really, how much are we talking about here as a percentage of all alcoholic beverage sales?  All of the bar and restaurant business is local, and those bars and restaurants make up a huge portion of the wholesalers business.  There isn’t a huge incentive to buy spirits and beer across state lines, and the cost of transport plus the hassle would deter most buyers from doing it anyway.

That leaves wine.  How many wine buyers, as a percent of all wine buyers, care enough to reach out to other markets to acquire certain labels or genres.  We’re guessing that percentage of buyers looking to other markets to be infinitesimal as a percentage of the total buying population..

And why do these few consumers do it?  To save a couple of bucks?  Not on every day stuff.  The numbers, with the cost of transport figured in, don’t typically make sense.  In fact, from an acquisition perspective, only higher end purchases pencil out from a cost perspective.  So, really, you’ve got a few high-end buyers who can’t find what they want in their own environment that are venturing out to look elsewhere.  We’d suggest, if they could get the stuff locally at a fair price, a good many of them wouldn’t bother with the hassle and risk of shipping and this conversation wouldn’t be happening at all?

The only answer is that they can’t get what they want locally at a reasonable price.  More likely they can’t get it at all! So what are they supposed to do?  This kind of thing doesn’t happen in any other industry.  If I want to ship a couch from Maine to California, I can.  It may be crazy given the cost of shipping something as heavy as that couch, but the law doesn’t prevent it.  Yet the wine guy is supposed to just suck it up and buy local because of some arcane local law that was enacted 80 years ago?

The governments rail on about lost taxes.  Really?  How much are we talking about? We’d guess they’re getting all but the tiniest portion of the tax due because most of the market doesn’t care enough or have any motivation to step out.  The taxes the states  don’t get are because their market has failed to satisfy the needs of those few customers that do want another option.

To put it simplistically, these wholesalers and governments seem to be overly concerned with the one or two buyers out of every, say, 10,000 that feel that need to go to other markets to get what they want.   Hundreds of millions in tax revenues (or more) that are coming in give way to concerns about a few thousand bucks that aren’t?  The Spectator article mentions a couple of cases where a state attorney general has filed suit against out-of-state wine interests.  Don’t state attorney generals have much more important things to do?

Granted the whole shipping thing is probably perceived as a bigger problem today than it was twenty years ago.  But that is likely because there is more information available to the consumer regarding new wines and places to find wines that may be outside the state boundary.  We don’t expect that the internet is going anywhere, so there will always be access to tantalizing information regarding wines and wine prices for the consumer to take in.   But, sadly, the alcoholic beverage wholesaler, sitting in a truckload of money grousing about the few pennies he didn’t get and paying someone to ‘fix it’, isn’t going anywhere either.  Neither are the ‘squeaky wheels’ that will start the next cycle of this ongoing hysteria.  Does this make the whole discussion pointless?   Sadly, it does.

 

 

The Best Charbono in Years

Unless you have had a somewhat unusual wine experience, we are pretty confident that this will be the best Charbono you have had in years.  We can say that because it is very likely the only example of this varietal you are likely to have experienced over the last few years.  There is precious little even being produced any more.

Charbono has a shadowed past. To this day there is no agreed upon origin of the grape. Some suggest it comes from the northwestern part of Italy under the name Bonarda Piemontese.  Others claim it comes from the southwestern part of France and exists under the handle Corbeau or Douce Noir.  The only things that can be stated with any certainty is that the Charbono grape thrives in a harsh mountain terrain, and that it made it across the ocean as the Italians that settled California early on planted multiple-varietal field blends to assure, through diversity, there would always be some sort of crop to harvest.

For a lot of you, there is no point of reference for a wine like this.  In truth, we don’t need more than our fingers to count all of the California versions of Charbono we have had over the years.  The thing is that, among the limited experiences we have had with California versions of this varietal, there have been a disproportionate number of intriguing efforts.  So on the rare occasion we are presented with a Charbono, we pay attention.

This story is particularly interesting.  We initially were a little skeptical of the ‘program’ at Inizi, a small side project for some wine professionals who have ‘day jobs’ at other wineries.  That in itself is not a big deal.  But the fact that they were focusing on eclectic Italian varietals like Sagrantino and Tocai Friulano, and blends of things like Dolcetto and Montepulciano, gave us some concern that they were a little bit out on the fringe from a marketability standpoint.  The Inizi Charbono 2014, however, showed us some of the best traits of this somewhat hard to pinpoint grape.

The profile is engaging red and mainly black fruit, a touch of woodsiness and lots of spice, ample enough but with plenty of freshness and lift.  There’s some tobacco and vanilla in there, too. It is a delightful example of what Charbono can be. It is a unique situation.  The grapes come from the Heitz Brothers vineyard near Calistoga, a 1.5 acre plot with 40-year-old, head-trained, dry-farmed vines.

A long, dry vintage delivered great optimally ripe fruit that was 30% whole berry fermented.  About 25% saw once used barrels, the rest neutral wood, for 10 months.  Plenty to like here, Charbono is one of those grapes that has elements that remind you of other varietals, but ultimately has its own unique character.