We embraced the whites from northwestern Spain immediately when we first started seeing a lot of them in the mid-90s. We’re still big fans but it is important to know that all such wines are not created equal. They can be riveting and bright, but can also be dull or over acidic. The right ones, as an aperitif or particularly with seafood, can be magic. We try a lot of them that you will never hear about because the range for success is a narrow one, and we think they should be reasonably priced to boot. With that in mind here are a couple of choices that work for us on all the required levels and, in fact, are repeat performers here.

Back when we started selling Albarinos, we had to explain to people what they were. Now enough people have had them to know what they are about. Styles and performance can vary widely given the producer, the volume, and where the vineyard is relative to the sea among other things. The Turonia Albarino Rias Baixas 2017 once again has everything we are looking for and delivers at a price that is easy to swallow. Somewhere between a Viognier and a Riesling in personality, the wine shows white stone fruit, lime, some spice and floral notes, and a refreshing finishing salinity with some fruit volume up-front and lift throughout.

Perhaps a bit harder to explain is the Eduardo Peña Ribeiro Blanco 2017. Ribiero is a small area inland from Raixas Bias and north of Portugal that specializes in unique blended whites. The rock star of the region is one called Emilio Rojo that is on most of the Michelin restaurant lists in Spain but costs in the $40-50 range. The Edward Pena gives you a very fine example of this genre for a lot less money.

The Edward Pena is a blend of Treixadura, Albariño, Godello, Lado and Loureira macerated and fermented in 300-liter European oak barrels. Pale yellow in color with golden highlights, the nose is a complex melange of lemon, bay leaf and orange blossom aromas, and tropical scents such as pineapple and mango. Peach and apricot, some honied tones, minerals and light balsamic smoky touch, it’s a bit broader on the palate than the ‘coastal’ whites but still has deceptive lift. An intriguing genre here that should have more followers but that’s because few people have seen these wines.


Back in the day when Chardonnay was king (and it still is in a lot of households), there was the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement. Ultimately no universal truths came out of it, only the fact that more people realize that other white wines, some even with funny names, can be very pleasing beverages and, as a bonus, more versatile with food.

White Rhones can be something of an enigma to some folks. North and south feature different varietals, blends can be quirky, and how one utilizes oak can be a make or break proposition. There is also a history of wines that were a bit oxidative and rather expensive that gave the category a rather checkered history in decades past.

Even though white wine production is considerably smaller than red in this part of the world, vintners have made great strides in producing whites that are both compelling and bright. In this case, Francois Villard is probably more known for his whites and the Francois Villard Saint Peray Version 2017 presents the kind of clarity and lift that few wines from this lesser-known region achieve.

Pear and citrus fruit punctuated by subtle floral and mineral aspects, this got our attention from first sip. Wine Advocate’s Joe Czerwinski was spot on with his notes here, “Villard’s 2017 Saint Peray Version is simultaneously rich and opulent yet bright and refreshing. This medium to full-bodied blend of 65% Marsanne and 35% Roussanne was barrel fermented and aged in older barrels, giving it plenty of weight and a silky texture, but the flavors of anise and flamed citrus zest keep the wine fresh, lingering elegantly on the finish…93 points.” The expressive, gregarious nature of this white makes it a surprisingly engaging choice in both aperitif or food applications.


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. 


We sell all manner of wines great and small, and everything we present here we believe has a good reason to be here.  We can launch a treatise on virtually any vinous subject, but don’t think we always should.  A quiet word or two should be sufficient or some wines, and just because we didn’t generate a tome doen’t mean we didn’t like it.  If we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t buy it at all.  With that in mind here are a few words on the newly released Cotes du Rhones from Ferraton.

There are two key things to know.  First, Ferraton is an accomplished house with a long history dating back to 1946.  Second is Michel Chapoutier, who started working with the property to convert to organic and ultimately biodynamic viticulture starting in 1998, and buying the place outright in 2004.  With Chapoutier at the helm, things are definitely on the upswing.   These are both outstanding value performers at their modest fares and both come from excellent vintages for their respective hues.

The Ferraton Cotes du Rhone Samorens Rouge 2016, a half and half blend of Grenache and Syrah that is brought up in concrete, shows an ample, supple core of berry fruit laced with spice and floral notes.  Jeb Dunnuck calls it “… Rounded, sexy and even voluptuous, with terrific purity in its black raspberry, violet and incense aromatics, this medium to full-bodied beauty has no hard edges, silky tannin and a great finish…90-92 points’

Perhaps even more of a surprise, because the southern Rhone isn’t necessarily known for crisp, engaging whites, is the  Ferraton Cotes du Rhone Samorens Blanc 2017A blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Clairette, all done in stainless steel to retain the freshness, it shows lovely, subtle tones of citrus and yellow stone fruits.  Again from Dunnuck, “…It’s fresh, vibrant, and crisp, yet has plenty of heft in its peach, tangerine, and citrus aromas and flavors. With bright acidity, outstanding balance, and a great finish, drink it over the coming 2-3 years…91 points.”  Both play well for their $10.98 tabs and are in a likeable, easy drinking style for the category.


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.


Spanish Immersion, Part One: Alluring Albariño

Given how much enthusiasm we have shown for the white wines from this part of the world in 2016, it should not surprise anyone that it is a very good year for Spain’s West Coast and it’s classically styled Albariños.  Palacio de Fefiñanes has been one of the blue chips from the area, as well as a personal favorite, and the 2016 is quite the beauty.

We’ve been working with Albariños in general for probably two decades or more and have seen all kinds of incarnations…aged ones, barrel fermented ones, etc.  To us, Albariño is best served naked with all of the freshness, subtle tropical fruit, pear, tangerine and hint of honey flavor profile, great tension between the high-pitched fruit and the bright acidity, and that whiff of the sea and hint of salinity to the finish.  Any other aspect that man introduces gets in the way of that core personality.  Keeping it simple allows the wine to shine and deliver mouth-watering sip after sip that plays beautifully with seafood or merely as an eminently quaffable beverage on a warm afternoon.

Of course, as we have discussed many times, when a wine is served naked, you have to live with whatever Mother Nature gives you.  Albariño, in a way resembles Viognier, though it is a much crisper beverage.  If it is too ripe, it lacks the zing that makes it such a lively quaff.  Without enough ripeness you’ve basically got a lean, acidic wine.  Fefiñanes is usually one of the consistent stars of the region year in and year out.  But like everyone else, they can only work with what they were given, which is usually pretty good.

In 2016, Nature was very good to them.  The Palacio de Fefinanes Albarino Rias Baixas 2016 strikes the perfect balance with a certain tenderness to the expressive fruit, enough mouthfeel to engage the palate, and then the perfect cut of refined acidity.  Fefiñanes is usually a ‘go-to’ in good vintages but this effort is a cut above and  reminds us fondly of some of those brilliant efforts from this region in the last benchmark vintage, 2010.

2016 ITALIAN WHITES: MAKING A POINT (plus three more winners)

The more we taste examples from the 2016 vintage in northern Italy, both red and white, the more wonder we experience.  Wine after wine shows a clarity of purpose, purity of fruit, and uniquely expressive nature unlike anything we can recall in recent times.  Are these wines really that good?  The more we experience, the more inclined we are to say ‘yes, they are!’

It wasn’t that long ago we were pretty gaga over the 2010 whites from this part of the world.  The fruit had substance and power, there was plenty of zip and verve and, in short, they were everything that you could expect n Italian white to be.  We remember the 2010s fondly, and were using them as the ‘benchmark’ for  everything that was special about Italian whites.  The 2016s are all of that and more, with everything that the 2010s had plus an undefinable ‘presence’ and harmony that sets the 2016s on another level.  That being said here are three more outstanding examples to make our point:

Filippo Gallino Arneis 2016The story here isn’t extensive, just a committed producer that consistently makes very good wine and doesn’t charge a lot for it.  With a ‘naked’ grape like Arneis you can’t really tweak it in the cellar with wood and have to be very careful with extended lees contact as both can negatively affect the desired freshness of the wine’s profile, you get what Nature gives you.  Wines like this really are made in the vineyard and those that farm meticulously are the successful ones.

Sure there are slightly more exotic aromatics with some of the big dogs labels that cost a lot more.  But this one presents all of the fresh floral nuances and apple-skin aromatics and the lively fruit driven palate that are the essence of this genre.  The 2016 simply has more energy and fruit weight than past versions, which makes this one a killer deal.

Inama Soave Classico 2016– As we have remarked, even the little wines are noticeably better in 2016.  Somehow they have a little more punch, a little more lift, and a surprising degree of harmony that forces you to take notice.  Inama is a staple around here, and we buy it almost every year.  But there’s just ‘more’ to this wine than any that we have tasted in recent memory.

There’s no big story here.  This is just Garganega, the classic grape of Soave, done in 100% stainless steel.  Sure it sounds simple enough.  But again this is a ‘naked’ wine which they can’t really mess with in the cellar of everything doesn’t go right, so there is a bit more to it.  All of the words matter.  To carry the name ‘classico’ the grapes must come from the hillside vineyards around the municipalities of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone in the original and oldest classic “zone” of Verona established back in 1927.

Forget those over-produced, insipid Soaves that flooded the market 20-30 years ago.  This is nothing like those.  Advocate’s Monica Larner’s words are precise enough, “This entry-level Soave Classico delivers the elegant mineral definition and fruit sensation you should expect of the best Garganega grapes. The 2016 Soave Classico Vin Soave benefits from very favorable growing conditions in a classic vintage. The bouquet is refined and polished with stone fruit, citrus, dried sage and saffron.”  Driving and quite engaging for the fare.

Keber Collio Bianco 2016No place does this kind of thing like the northeast  of Italy.  Riveting, purposeful blends of a mixture of white varietals make for some uniquely compelling whites with lifted fruit, plenty of sizzle, but also unexpected palate presence.  In that realm, Keber has always been one of the stars.  Their Collio Bianco can stand with the best in the region, but is much more attractively priced.

Maybe it was just a good day, but the 2016 Keber Collio is the best version of this wine we can remember tasting, everything the past efforts have been but with seemingly another gear.  The blend is 70% Friulano , 15% Malvasia Istriana, and 15% Ribolla Gialla.  The concept is Friulano for structure, Malvasia Istriana for its aromatic qualities, and Ribolla Gialla for
acidity. These varietals do very well in the so-named “Ponka” soil, composed of marl and sandstone, that naturally stresses the vines.  The grapes are whole cluster, soft-pressed to minimize oxidation during crushing. The juice is fermented and matured on the yeasts for 6 months in
cement vats. Twenty per-cent of the Friulano is aged in older, large barrels.

This wine, from a 10-acre estate near the Slovenian border, always has remarkable weight, body and a distinctive, super-minerally aspect typical of the region.  The estate produces just this wine but it is a constant winner.  This time around, it’s just a notch or two better, which is pretty sensational.



It’s always about the wine, but sometimes it is also about the connection.  Without going into detail about the cottage industry of wine brokerages that exists in a place like California, sometimes we don’t see certain labels for a period of time simply because the representative of some small entity simply can’t be bothered to make the trip down the freeway.  This is our life as it exists in the wine industry.  But we deal with all manner of folks because that is what you have to do to see all that is out there.

Johann Donabaum’s Austrian wines were an immediate favorite when we started working with them about a decade ago.  We liked his stuff for a couple of reasons.  Clearly the guy had good vineyards, and clearly a unique touch where his Gruners and Rieslings were very typical of the personality one expected from vineyards like Spitzer Point and Setzberg in the Wachau.  These wines had all the terroir and minerality one could expect, but still a certain accessibility that offered some hedonistic appeal as opposed to just “rocks and acidity’.  Second, for as good as the wines were, there was a certain rational sense to the pricing.

The Johann Donabaum Gruner Veltliner Spitzer Point Federspiel 2015, the first Donabaum we have seen in a while was a perfect example of what we mean.  Clean and beautifully executed as always, it is particularly gratifying to have the stuff come back in one of the best vintages we can ever recall for Austrian wines.  This Federspiel (the Austrian equivalent of a kabinett in must weight) has the weight and roundness of a lot of Smaragd, with the well infused minerality one expects with a yellow stone fruit character that this particular vintage brings.

From classic gneiss (typically coarse-grained earth consisting mainly of feldspar, quartz, and mica) soils, these 30-year-old vines sit in an east facing vineyard sitting at 1000 ft. elevation.  This wine sees nothing but exposure to its own lees in the cellar in an effort to express the site in its purest form.  Plumper yet still crisp, this is an appealing Gruner in a great vintage from a talented source for under $20.  That’s the meat of it.


Because of what we do, it is not unusual for us to be asked what our favorite wines are.  There are a couple of recurring scenarios that occur as we try and answer the question honestly and not sound like we’re too above it all.  If you have only tasted two wines in your life, the answer to the question is quite simple.  But when you have tasted literally hundreds of thousands, it’s hard to narrow favorites down even to a couple hundred wines, let alone one or two.

The categories that get our attention can be pretty esoteric as well.  For example one of our favorite places for white wines is northeastern Italy.  Here in the hills that elevate into the Alps there are high valleys with crystal clean air, bright sunshine and cool nights that create wines like nowhere else in the world.  Pure, insistent, remarkably expressive and lively on the palate, perfect foils to a wide variety of foods, the wines from this part of the world have a special character and vigor.

People ask us to name some of our favorites from the region and then have puzzled looks on their faces when we point to wines like Val Isarco, Abbazia di Novacella, Schiopetto, and Cantina Terlano.  None of them are exactly household words even among a lot of serious wine cognoscenti.    One of our absolute favorites is the subject of today’s offer, a brilliant white wine house in Friuli called Vie di Romans.

We identified these folks as one of the best-of-the-best in the region a very long time ago, and have always jumped at the chance to taste their newest wares.  Unfortunately, such chances have come far less often than we would have liked.  For one, the wines have not had consistent distribution over the years.  Most suppliers don’t have a lot of patience to try and develop higher priced Italian whites.   Also, because the wines cost quite a bit more than your run-of-the-mill Friulanos, Pinot Grigios, and Sauvignons, suppliers are more reluctant to show them.  The perfectly valid opinion is that most restaurant/retail buyers would find them too pricey to work into standard scenarios.

We’d have to admit ourselves that we have shied away from some pretty stupendous efforts from Vie di Romans simply because we presumed people would be hesitant to spend the additional coin even though these soar above the crowd.   People figure they can get ‘good’ Pinot Grigio for $15-16 while Vie di Romans version is closer to $30.  Yet there is no comparison.  The VdR is richer, more driving and more complex, simply a wine unto itself with dazzling acidity and palate length that bears little resemblance to most of the vapid Pinot Grigios on the marketplace.

We know such wines are not the  easiest sell. Sometimes, even against our better ‘marketing’ judgment, we buy them anyway.   The very best simply cost more, and these wines deserve the spotlight.  So it was with this riveting Sauvignon Blanc duet from Vie di Romans… driving fruit, insistent palate length and mouth- watering acidity.

The single-vineyard Vie di Romans Sauvignon Blanc Piere Friuli Isonzo 2015 simply smells and tastes like something from another strata.  There’s power, finesse, and complex flavors of grapefruit, stones, and apple, along with the classically Italian note of tomato leaves.  Oak would damage the wine’s purity, so ‘Piere’ is done entirely in stainless steel with an eight month sojourn on the lies and  no malo-lactic.  The result is a sleek, vividly flavored effort that can play with Sauvignon s costing a lot more.  James Suckling’s take, “Plenty of sliced apple, grass and fennel seed character. Medium body, tangy acidity and a smoky, slate aftertaste. Always excellent. Drink now… 93 Points!”  You can drink it now, but this meticulously crafted Sauvignon can age as well.

The Vie di Romans Sauvignon Blanc Vieris Friuli Isonzo 2015 kicks it up a notch.  It has everything that the Piere has, but more, and with a little different twist to the flavor profile!  More palate authority, intensity, and high-toned fruit, plus this one reaches a little into the realm of exotic fruit tones.  The main difference between the two is that Piere consists of a higher percentage of Italian clones, whereas the Vieris favors French clones.  The vines are a little older here, and Vieris spends nine months on the lies.  Again, what a wine…surprising punch yet with an uncommon refinement.  Suckling went a little cheerleader on this one, “This is really exotic with peaches, mangoes and grapefruits as well as a steely undertone. Full body, plenty of fruit and a powerful finish. One of the great whites of Italy. Drink now… 96 Points!”

One of the great whites of Italy?  Indeed, they both are.  Considering they are legitimate best-of-breed, the prices actually don’t seem out of line.  You get what you pay for, and these are the works of masters.  Treat yourself.


We have followed Portuguese whites for some time.  Frankly for much of that period, they were little more than utilitarian.  They weren’t necessarily intended for great heights, so comparing them to ‘grand vin’ is kind of pointless.  They were, for the most part, simply ‘white and wet’.

Over the last half-dozen years or so, however, we have started to see some new faces that take their business more seriously.  They keep the wines clean and fresh.  They don’t over crop.  And the wines have fruit along with their brisk acidity.  Lately we find ourselves reaching for these a lot more often, and the newest versions of two of our favorites have hit the floor just in time.

The ‘official’ drink me by-the-sea wine of Portugal is called Vinho Verde, which translates into ‘green wine’.  These are intended to be consumed young and bright, but for the most part are not necessarily compelling.  A couple of years ago we discovered this producer, and have looked for this bottling every year since.  The Arca Nova Vinho Verde 2016  is a compelling go-to again, all of that crisp quaffability but also corresponding fruit and flavor interest that you don’t find in too many Vinho Verdes.

Dubbed one of the official Winex ‘house whites’, there’s texture to the lime/apple fruit and a feeling of substance to go along with the expected zing and delicate mineral notes.   Fermentation occurs at low temperatures in stainless steel vats, preserving the wine’s jump-out-of-the-glass verve and keeping a little CO2 in the mix to give it a little hint of spritz taking the whole experience up a couple of notches!  It’s a steal at this price so ‘don’t fear the deal’ and it zips nicely with the lighter fare of summer.  You may not know the grapes (Loureiro 50%, Arinto 40%, and Treixadura 10%), but this one performs in the glass where it matters.

Another of our old favorites, and arguably a wine whose earlier versions sent us the message that there was something going on in Portugal, is the Soalheiro Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2016The grape here is a bit more familiar (Alvarinho is what the Portuguese call Albariño), and Soalheiro can compete with Spain’s best versions. Yellow melon, lime, kiwi, a wisp of salinity, this is another superb performer with a bit more power and substance and, of course, plenty of sizzle.

A Wine Advocate 92 for Soalheiro (not bad for a ‘little’ Portuguese white), the descriptive notes ring true, “This shows all the hallmarks of Soalheiro, fresh, clean and lively. It is a pointed wine that seems a bit on the lean side, but it is very tightly wound, utterly gripping on the juicy finish and perfectly focused…Don’t drink it too cold—if you do, the power just takes over. If you like them crisp and dry, with that laser-like burst of acidity, this is an easy choice at a nice price.”

The Iberian Peninsula is rocking this summer with whites…