2018 Bordeaux Futures - The Hits Keep a'Coming

Friday, May 17, 2019 10:59 AM

2018 Bordeaux Futures - The Hits Keep a'Coming

Back in early April ...

The Bordelais opened their doors and unveiled their respective barrel samples to the international wine trade. The week, known as En Primeur week, is usually accompanied by praise and hype that would make Madison Avenue proud. Like it or not, that's what happens, it's just how it goes. More on that later. By now, those of you who are interested in such things know a thing or two about the 2018 vintage in Bordeaux, but just to be thorough, here's a brief overview. Please keep in mind that this is a general summary, conditions varied greatly from place to place. Though not as consistent as 2005, 2009, 2010, or 2016, there were some absolutely stunning samples presented.

The 2018 growing season started out cold and wet. This delayed things in the vineyards a bit, though the rain persisted through May and especially June. Toss in a hailstorm or two, and you get the picture. It was a challenging start to be sure. Another rainstorm hit, coincidentally on the day France won the World Cup (in July), and the weather warmed up. All the moisture combined with the heat made conditions quite tropical, and unfortunately ideal for the outbreak of downy mildew. Vineyards farmed biodynamically were pretty much wiped out, and they weren't the only ones. This was where a little luck (and wherewithal) made the difference.

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Our Longtime Pals In The Loire - The Barbous

Wednesday, February 27, 2019 4:31 PM

Our Longtime Pals In The Loire - The Barbous

A lot has changed since 1995,

but one thing hasn't changed: TWH continues to offer the wines from Véronique and Dominique Barbou's Domaine des Corbillières. That's a long time, though there are several good reasons this relationship has lasted as long as it has - good people, good growers, fine wines, and sensible pricing. They make several cuvées, including a sparkler; though we traditionally carry their Touraine Sauvignon (Blanc), Touraine Les Demoiselles (Rouge), and Rosé.

The domaine was purchased by Dominique's great-grandfather Fabel in 1923, and the current duo in charge represent the fourth generation making the wines in Touraine, right in the heart of the Loire Valley. Rumor has it that is was Fabel who first planted Sauvignon Blanc in Touraine by planting one vine and noticing how well it took to the terroir! The rest, as they say, is history.

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Another Great Bordeaux Bargain:  2015 Chateau Haut-Plaisance, Montagne St-Emilion

At a Bordeaux negociant's office last spring, 

I ditched my eyeglasses for this tasting glass, opened up my tasting book, and proceeded to sample 30 wines they thought would be appealing. Every negociant has a different way of presenting their wines; there's no right or wrong way to do so, just different. Tasting samples one on one with suppliers in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere is definitely my preference, but when one is in Bordeaux for Primeurs week, you've got to roll with the punches. Fortunately for me, this appointment was quiet and relaxed. I tasted through the lineup, made some notes, went back and re-tasted some of them, made some more notes, which led to a handful of decisions.  

I have to say this particular negoce has a pretty good sense as to what I look for, because there are usually a high percentage of favorable wines each year I taste with them. The record stayed intact, as of the 30 wines, I disliked only 2, while making a strong case for 12 of them. That's a very high percentage compared to some of the tastings I attend!  Though we could have purchased all dozen of them, I had to whittle down the list to the wines that I felt strongest about; wines to focus on.

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Chateau Coutet Grand Cru Classe 1855



In The World Of Sauternes,

The common perception is that Château d'Yquem stands alone at the top of the pyramid when it comes to quality. While this may be true in general, there is a wine, only made in the best vintages, which challenges that perception:  Château Coutet's Cuvée Madame.

As the story goes, the cuvée was named after Madame Rolland-Guy, who owned the estate until 1977. The vineyard workers would dedicate a day's work to her, without pay, while picking the most concentrated Sémillon grapes from the two oldest parcels of the Premier Cru vineyard. 

Production for the Cuvée Madame has typically been around 1200 bottles. It is not made in every vintage. In fact the 2009 Cuvée Madame represents only the 15th vintage of this wine first made in 1943. The wine is bottled and aged at the chateau for around a decade and then released. The next installment of Cuvée Madame will be the 2014 vintage, slated to be released in 2026!

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Introducing Villamagna, considered to be the finest terroir of d'Abruzzo
2015-villamagna-store-stacks

The Torre Zambra winery

was established in 1961, and continues to be a family run estate with its third generation at the helm. We took the leap last year to begin importing their wines after an introduction by Tiziana Settimo of Barolo's Aurelio Settimo, whose wines we also import. People often ask how we source our wines from abroad, and in this instance, it was a respected winemaker (Tiziana) that connected us to Torre Zambra. Our relationships with the producers we import are vital to the strength of our business. We are in this together. So when someone like Tiziana suggests checking out another winery, we listen. 

So many of you have delighted in Torre Zambra's vibrant rosato, Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo, their classic, zippy Pecorino and their many styles of Montepulciano. Well, we have one more wine from Torre Zambra that arrived last month during the frenzy of the holiday rush, the 2015 Villamagna DOC. A recent DOC, created in 2011, Villamagna is considered the finest terroir of the Abruzzo, limited to a total of 85 hectares among three municipal districts, Vacri, Bucchianico, and Villamagna. Torre Zambra's hillside estate vines are grown at 500-1000 feet in elevation with an ideal south-east facing aspect within the village of Villamagna. 

villamagna-hillside-vineyards
The 2015 Villamagna is lush and supple. It highlights the best of the Montepulciano grape, showcasing plenty of fruit, a dark robe and gentle tannins. Too often when making their "best" wines, producers in Abruzzo throw too much oak on Montepulciano, masking its inherent approachability. TZ's Villamagna is fermented in stainless steel tank, aged in large cement vats for a year and then rests in bottle for another 6 months. The resulting wine is pure, unadulterated fruit. There are flavors of red cherry and plum, notes of cocoa powder and an underpinning of leather. Its gorgeous, plush mouthfeel reminds me of some Châteauneuf-du-Pâpes. The 2015 Villamagna is constructed for maximum tasting pleasure. 
torre-zambra-third-generation
I drank the 2015 Villamagna on two occasions; once on Christmas day with ricotta-stuffed, baked shell pasta and on New Year's Eve with grilled steaks. In both instances the wine delivered on my expectations for a generous, high-impact fruit wine without any pretensions. Sometimes the mood strikes for more yummy, and less contemplative. 

The last couple weeks held many life lessons for me on facing down doing what is right even if it is hard or uncomfortable. These moments don't always present themselves in a way you can reflect on after the fact. But this time they did and left me feeling better than I felt before dealing with them. It's nice to be able to pat yourself on the back sometimes. And in this spirit, I think I'll buy another bottle of 2015 Villamagna to enjoy with dinner as another winter's storm passes overhead. 

- Anya Balistreri



A Tasty Margaux For Under $40 - 2012 Château Siran

Saturday, January 26, 2019 4:13 PM

A Tasty Margaux For Under $40 - 2012 Château Siran
Chateau Siran Label

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux

Were in town yesterday, this year pouring the fairly recently bottled 2016 vintage. It was a vintage of superlatives. There were sensational wines from every appellation. Briefly, some of the 2016 wines that made impressions on me were (in no particular order) Clos Fourtet, Les Carmes Haut Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte, and Leoville Barton. Impressive they were, but these wines are mere infants.  They're going to need time. In fact, believe it or not, there were a few wines which I felt were already entering the period of "shutting down."  Meaning that their structure was particularly dense, denying the inherent fruit to fully express itself. As I've written before, I consider 2016 to be the first great homogenous Bordeaux vintage of the post-Robert Parker era. The wines, at least the Cru Classé wines, are going to need time in the cellar before they really strut their stuff.

Back in the spring of 2013, members of the international wine trade gathered once again in Bordeaux, this time to taste the 2012 vintage. The vintage received little fanfare, certainly not praised as were the back to back blockbusters of 2009 and 2010. Though not receiving much praise from the wine press, I found the vintage charming, and in some locales, fantastic. I remember my first day of tasting that year in the warehouse of a negociant tasting barrel samples for hours. The firm's General Manager walked over to check on me and asked what I was liking and I sent him to the Château d'Issan sample. He took a taste and made the "big eyes" face, as he was impressed. d'Issan was not the only Margaux which was impressive. When I returned, I sat down with David to discuss the vintage. Pomerol, St. Emilion, Pessac-Léognan, and Margaux were the winners, I told him. The consensus among critics included the former 3 appellations, but David was quick to point out, "Margaux? Didn't hear much about that. I think you're on your own there." When Robert Parker's assessment of the vintage out of barrel was released, the aforementioned d'Issan received a modest (87-89) point rating from him. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't. I thought it was fantastic and continued to recommend it to our customers. Once the wines were bottled, Parker re-tasted it and gave it 95 points. After that, it seemed that wine writers began to recognize that Margaux had its set of great 2012's also. We had a good run with the 2012 La Gurgue, a petit chateau from Margaux, a couple of years ago. I continue to look for 2012 Margaux's on price lists when we receive them, and found a solid deal not too long ago. The 2012 Château Siran, Margaux is not only a solid deal, it can be enjoyed now (decant, please) or will gain in complexity if cellared over the next two decades.

Château Siran is located in Labarde, the southern-most commune in the Margaux appellation. After La Lagune, Cantemerle, and Giscours, it's the fourth recognizable chateau one passes when driving north from the city of Bordeaux. The vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot primarily, though it is also comprised of 13% Petit Verdot, which can add spiciness and concentration to the wines. Siran is one of very few chateaux to have had the same family in charge for more than 150 years. In 1859, the renowned Miailhe has been in charge, and currently, Édouard Miailhe represents the fifth generation in control, a position he took over in 2007.

Out of barrel, the 2012 Château Siran showed classic structure with spicy and herbal aromas. On the palate, the wine showed an earthy mineral core with dark fruit, pencil lead and truffle notes. I thought enough of the barrel sample to keep a look out for the wine once it was bottled. We found some a while back and they landed here recently. Out of bottle, tasted over the holidays, I found the wine to be in a good place with the fruit expressive, rising about the earthy structure. The herbal and truffle notes are present, but that black cherry and cassis fruit make for a pleasant tasting experience. At least it was a hit with the group I shared it with. I took my eye off the bottle for a couple of minutes, and when I went back for a second glass, all I got were the lucky drops!

Here's Neal Martin's synopsis of the 2012 Château Siran after he tasted it in 2016:

"Tasted at the vertical held at the property, the 2012 Château Siran, a blend of 55% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot, has a very composed and delineated bouquet with scents of red plum, raspberry, mineral, cedar and a touch of graphite. The palate is medium-bodied with fine, gently grippy tannin, and graphite-tinged black fruit that turns spicier towards the finish, which displays commendable substance and persistence - a 2012 Margaux with ambitions. This is a very fine Siran, much better than many of the wines produced in the 1990s and it comes recommended."

You, most likely, will be hearing more and more about the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux, and my two cents are that it is not over-hyped; the wines are legit! They're just going to need time, but they are certainly worth owning. In the mean time, while our 2016's are aging in our respective cellars, it's a darned good idea to have some 2012 Margaux at our disposal. One doesn't often see a recognizable Margaux château available for less than $35, but here it is. Come and get it! - Peter Zavialoff

Rock~n~Rolle Baby! A Provençal White - Yum!

Sunday, January 20, 2019 1:51 PM

Rock~n~Rolle Baby! A Provençal White - Yum!
Domaine-Aspras-Horse-Ploughing

Les Trois Frères 

Less attention is paid to the white wines of Provence than to the rosés, and that's a shame. Rosé from this region casts a long shadow, so it's easy to forget that there are other "flavors" worth seeking out. David, our multi-hat wearing GM, returned to the store with a line-up of whites and a rosé he was presenting to a local restaurant. "The samples showed great," David informed us. "The restaurant wants to pour them all!" Chris, Pete and I tasted the samples at the end of the day and concurred. All were delicious. But, as is often the case, there was a stand-out and it was the 2017 Les Trois Frères blanc from Domaine des Aspras. The citrus notes scream of Satsuma mandarin, that sweet juicy fruit intensified by daggers of acid. 

The Trois Frères blanc is made of 100% Rolle, a grape with many different regional names. Crossing the border into Italy, the grape is most commonly known as Vermentino. Rolle is well suited to warm summer climates because it retains acidity during ripening. The Trois Frères is made with organically farmed grapes and fermented in stainless steel. The absence of oak allows the fruit to shine forth with captivating flavors of citrus, a touch of rhubarb and exotic fruit aromas. Its sunny disposition brings in a bit of Provençal flair to these grey, wet winter days. A cool glass while preparing dinner in a warm, food-scented kitchen makes for a happy scenario. 

Trois-Freres-Tasting-Table
I did something this week I have not done for far too long - I went to the Napa Valley. I accepted an invitation from a winery to taste through their most recent releases. The skies were cloudy and grey. A storm was expected to come through later that evening. Driving north on Highway 29 towards St. Helena, I greeted the historic and the new. After the tasting, I grabbed some lunch with a colleague who represents the winery in the market. I have known her for twenty years, but this was the first time I was on her turf and having lunch together, so there was lots to talk about. At about 3pm, my chariot was about to turn into a pumpkin, so it was back on the road heading home. By this time the clouds made way to rain and though heavy, it was fine. That all changed when I was diverted off Highway 121 at a road closure and was led down some unfamiliar country roads that were rapidly becoming flooded. I made it home just in time for the brunt of the storm to hit. A blissful afternoon followed by a stressful, white-knuckle drive home. The good with the bad. Grateful to be home - daughter doing homework on the dining room table, husband warming up dinner - I poured a couple of glasses from the sample bottle of 2017 Trois Frères blanc I took home the night before. Ahhh, it was good all over again. 

- Anya Balistreri

New Year - New Container - New Budget Bordeaux

Saturday, January 12, 2019 6:09 PM

New Year - New Container - New Budget Bordeaux
Chateau Calvimont bottle, corkscrew, and glass

Happy New Year!

Just to add frenzy to the already boisterous holiday period, we were blessed with the landing of a container of new French wines. Much of it originated in Bordeaux, with the bulk of our purchases from the 2015 vintage. In addition to the famous wines we offered as futures, came the arrival of a dozen or so petits chateaux wines. I mentioned a sensational deal in the world of dry white Bordeaux two weeks ago, the 2016 Château Boisson blanc. Several cases disappeared quickly, snapped up by savvy shoppers and TWH staff alike. The subject from tonight's email is a red wine from a village that's not well known for their red wines. Introducing the 2016 Château Calvimont, Graves from the town of Cérons.

The famous wines from Bordeaux represent a mere 5% of the overall production, which means that few have ever heard of the other 95%, myself included. Each year while in Bordeaux for the annual barrel tastings, I make time to taste wines from suppliers which have already been bottled and I must say that each year I taste wines from chateaux I've never heard of, let alone tasted before. Talk about zero label bias! It's all about quality and price in those tasting rooms, and as I re-taste this year's crop of petits chateaux wines, I must say I'm happy with the results! Early last week the stars aligned and we were all here, so I pulled a handful of these wines and brought them to the tasting room to pour for David and our staff. The wines all showed well (Phew! As the pressure was on), though one particular wine won the honors as the hit of the tasting, the 2016 Château Calvimont, Graves.

A little background:  Calvimont is a label owned by Château de Cérons, and the production is red and dry white wines. Dry wines coming from within appellations that produce sweet wines from this area are legally allowed to use the Graves appellation on their labels. Cérons sits right beside the Garonne River just across from Cadillac. Cérons is just south of Podensac and just north of Barsac. If you know me, you know I spend a lot of time in this neck of the woods each year. The Château de Cérons is a grand manor house built in the early 18th century situated on a terrace overlooking the Garonne. It is listed as a historical monument. It was the Marquises of Calvimont who initiated the construction of the chateau in the 18th century. The vineyards which produce Château Calvimont have always been part of the Cérons estate. The soil is gravel and sand upon limestone. The winery is gravity fed, designed for the gentlest possible handling of the grapes. For the red wine, the blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot. Fermentation is done in cement vats and the wine is aged in barrels, 20% new.  The current management team of Xavier and Caroline Perromat took over in 2012, and things are looking up, up, up. At least I'm keeping my eye on them!

So as we were tasting the wines the other day, this one stood out for its quality and modest price tag. The aromas are complex and nuanced with hints of bright red fruit, crushed leaves, geranium, some chalky mineral and that brambly, plump Merlot fruit. On the palate, it exhibits a medium-bodied entry with that 2016 freshness, the hallmark of the vintage. Its bright acidity keeps the nuanced wine alive, allowing for the complex layers to pop out to say hello.  The finish is well balanced and long. All in all, for less than $20, the Château Calvimont is class act!

As we continue to see what 2019 has in store for us, I must say that it's exciting to have all of this new wine to taste. A great majority of our 2015 Bordeaux is now in, as are some new vintages from some of our friends in Burgundy. It has been quiet on the music front lately, though The Noise Pop festival is coming soon. The English Football scene has been quite interesting, though I fear The Blues are a few key pieces away from winning any silverware this spring, but it's still fun. Speaking of sports, I just read a newspaper article this morning that mentioned Phil Smith, Kevin Restani, and Eric Fernsten, among others. These former collegiate athletes were childhood heroes of mine. I never thought those names would make their way back to relevance, but there's excitement once again on the Hilltop. TWH has been well represented at USF's Memorial Gym this season in the form of both Tom and myself in the stands for several basketball games. We'll be there again tonight to see how they match up vs. #5 Gonzaga. Win or lose, it should be an entertaining evening. Happy New Year - and be sure to check out the 2016 Château de Calvimont! - Peter Zavialoff

Les Arroucats Cuvée Virginie: Bordeaux's Other Sweet Wine

Sainte-Croix-du-Mont

is a small appellation along the Garonne River opposite from Barsac. In Sainte-Croix-du-Mont they grow Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and a tiny bit of Muscadelle, making dessert wine not entirely unlike Sauternes, but then again quite different. Sainte-Croix-du-Monts are lighter, less botrytised and unctous sweet wines. To compare them solely to Sauternes is a mistake and can lead one to overlook a very good opportunity to enjoy another style of sweet wine. The Chateau Les Arroucats Cuveé Virginie is a favorite one here at The Wine House. And as anyone who walks through our doors discovers - we love sweet wines! Context is everything when it comes to appreciating non-dry whites and keeping an open mouth and palate will derive oodles of tasting pleasure. Over the last two weeks, I've opened several bottles of the Arroucats to serve with, and instead of, dessert. Because it is lighter in body and less heady, it's perfect to open up on a whim and not fuss whether or not your guests are giving it the proper attention. I can attest that is goes well with Sicilian Cannolis, panettone and quality cheeses. Last night I poured a glass with a couple of shards of peanut brittle. A great combination. The nutty, buttery candy was uplifted by the sweet cream and citrus notes of the Arroucats.

oyster-soil-sainte-croix-du-monts
Chateau Les Arroucats was established by Christian Labat after WWII. The estate was taken over by his daughter, Annie Lapouge, who was credited for modernizing the winery. Today the winery is managed by Mme. Lapouge's daughter, Virginie. They hand-harvest the grapes over several passages then ferment them in concrete and stainless steel vats. The wine ages for one to two years in vats before bottling. The wine is not aged in any wood, hence the fresh, fruity flavors. The grapes at the estate average over forty years and grow on clay-calcareous soils that sit above on a plateau of an ancient seabed as evidenced by the thick layer of oyster shells (see picture above). It is no secret that demand for these lighter-styled dessert wines has waned, so it's no small miracle that such a terrific one like Les Arroucats is still being produced AND at such an affordable price! At $14.99 it is a steal and it gets better...it discounts 15% by the case! Happy New Year! 
a-girl-and-her-dog
I have stumbled over the finish line into 2019, only to realize that on the Twelfth Day of Christmas my darling daughter turns 15! Impossible you say? Impossible I say! Early in December, a customer came to pick up a large order for his annual work Christmas Party. After some chit chat, he asked me how old my daughter was. I told him she was soon to be 15. He looked at me and said, "Does she hate you yet?". I laughed, answering "only some of the time". She is a good person with a big kind heart and curious mind. What a blessing. Her birthday dinner will be a traditional Russian Christmas Eve lenten meal. Luckily she inherited her mother's love for all types of foods and cuisine. We'll have cake, but there will also be Kutya and Zvar, so the simple, honeyed flavors of the Les Arroucats Cuvée Virginie should pair beautifully. Wishing all of you a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year! - Anya Balistreri

New Year - Wine Labels - 2016 Chateau Boisson Blanc

Saturday, December 29, 2018 10:45 AM

New Year - Wine Labels - 2016 Chateau Boisson Blanc

Let's Say Goodbye To 2018!

All good things must come to an end ...

And certainly there were high points and low points throughout 2018 for all of us, but it's not out of the norm to be reflective about them as we look forward to the coming New Year. Doubtless, we all enjoyed some special bottles during the year, with several of them being enjoyed within the past month or so. This is neither the time nor the forum for name-dropping, or label-dropping as it might be called. What is most important is that we share our wine and our time, with friends, colleagues, and loved ones. As long as the wine is being shared, what's on the label isn't as important.

My favorite wine writer, Andrew Jefford, penned an article in Decanter Magazine yesterday titled, 
"Are you a wine label drinker?" Not to parrot too much from said article, though I was moved by this analogy, "You don’t have to be standing in the Grand Canyon to experience the wonder of nature." In this case meaning that one doesn't require tasting the finest of the finest to enjoy their wine tasting experience. The article makes several other points that struck chords with me, but that was the biggie.

Case in point, last Tuesday I enjoyed a mellow Christmas lunch with my brother and our Mother, who is in her 90's. Mom insists on paying for the wine that I bring her, and also believes that anything over $10 is overpriced. I think you get the idea as to what kind of wine we shared. What are you going to do? To stew over not drinking something fancy would ruin the occasion. I happily poured her a glass of French Merlot in her price range, and get this, when I finished she looked at me and said, "You can pour some more, you know." It was a light-hearted moment enjoyed by the three of us.

After lunch, I headed back in to the city to the home of some good friends and a group of around 15. We all were treated to some amazing dishes with Dungeness Crab and Prime Rib being the two headliners. Some of my fellow party goers brought some very nice bottles, and I brought some also, though the ones that I brought weren't quite up to the stature of a mature Bordeaux in magnum! It mattered not. The Trebbiano d'Abruzzo was great with the crab, though I fear our tapping into it during cocktail hour perpetuated its exhaustion midway through the crab dish. The rustic Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake Garda in Italy was terrific with the Prime Rib, and was the topic of some interesting conversation. The dinner was a smashing success for all involved and the sentiments around the table were positive and loving. Looking back, after returning home, it was the best Christmas I've spent in years. By the way, to my friend, P.S., thank you very much for bringing that magnum. It was stunningly good!

Sticking with the topic of modest wine doing the trick, one of my favorite deals in dry White Bordeaux is now here, having just arrived on our most recent container:  It's the 2016 Château Boisson Blanc, Bordeaux. It's modestly priced alright! I'm sure I will be eventually pouring a glass for my Mom sometime in the near future. The aromas are pretty complex for a $10 wine. There's something there on the nose which reminds me of those tart, powdery candies of yore. Along with mineral and floral notes, the gooseberry fruit is in proper balance with the rest of the components. The palate entry is easy and light, the fruit gaining slightly on the palate, braced by some light acidity, and the finish is harmonious with a yellow/gold fruity core. It's $10 per bottle so you can pop it for any occasion. To borrow a sentence from Andrew Jefford, I wouldn't turn down a glass of Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, but I can think of plenty of occasions where a glass of the 2016 Château Boisson Blanc would be perfect. Happy New Year, everybody! - Peter Zavialoff

Perle de Roche Crémant de Bourgogne from Jean-Marie Chaland
Perle-de-Roche-with-glasses

If it isn't Champagne, what do you call it?

In France, the term used to denote a sparkling wine other than Champagne is Crémant. The Perle de Roche Brut Nature from Domaine Sainte Barbe is a Crémant de Bourgogne and therefore technically not a Champagne, but you’d be hard pressed to guess otherwise if given a glass to taste blind. An absolute dead ringer for authentic Champagne.

And, just like it's done in Champagne, Domaine Sainte Barbe has the wine go through secondary fermentation in bottle. This is called Méthode Traditionnelle. The legendary monk, Dom Perignon, is erroneously credited for discovering this technique of making still wine into sparkling wine. The transformation of still into sparkling wine was less of a sudden discovery and more like a drawn-out process that evolved over a long time period. At any rate, Domaine Sainte Barbe’s winemaker, Jean-Marie Chaland, uses 100% Chardonnay, a blanc de blancs as it were, from the lieux-dits La Verchère, a parcel of 50 year old vines in Viré, just north of Mâcon. The Chardonnay grapes are grown on clay and limestone soils, lending a pronounced mineral quality to the wine.

jean-marie-chaland
Jean-Marie leaves his Perle de Roche en tirage for a good long time; it sits on the lees for 30 months before disgorgement. Perle de Roche is a Brut Nature, which means it has zero dosage and less than 3 grams of sugar per litre. As a comparison, a Brut can have up to 12 grams of sugar per litre. In other words, it is a sparkling wine for Rock Heads – an affectionate term used for wine drinkers who have an affinity for mineral-driven, steely wines. At the store, we call the Perle de Roche, the Poor Man’s Les Mesnil because of that distinctive, crisp, sleek finish.

Perle de Roche is not made in every vintage and production is tiny, less than 300 hundred cases produced. The bottling we have in stock is entirely from the 2014 vintage. A truly artisanal effort. And here is the real kicker - it's only $28.98 per bottle! 

No need to twist my arm, I gladly embrace the tradition of drinking a glass – or two- of bubbly this time of year. Of course, I don’t usually need any encouragement to drink it as I adhere to the Lily Bollinger way of thinking (“I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I am alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” LB)

This holiday season, I’ll be stocking up with bottles of Perle de Roche to take to parties, give out as gifts and have at the ready in case people pop by the house. The price makes it doable. It doesn’t hurt either that the package is elegant, but ultimately it is the quality in the bottle that will impress and so no one will be the wiser that I did not have to overpay for mediocre Champagne. 

Cheers! - Anya Balistreri

Torre Zambra Pecorino, The Wine That Sealed The Deal

Saturday, October 20, 2018 9:15 PM

Torre Zambra Pecorino, The Wine That Sealed The Deal

What a beautiful day in SF's Dogpatch ...

While walking the streets of our neighborhood this afternoon, I couldn't help noticing the general good vibe of throngs of folks out enjoying the warm weather, sitting in parklets and outdoor tables, sharing the weekend with those of us who work and live here. We had more than a couple of first timers poke their heads in our shop today, asking what we're all about. As many of you know, we are always happy to share our stories, answer questions, and put quality juice in your hands. Now that we're moving deeper into autumn, days like today will be fewer, but the vibe this afternoon has me longing for something chilled and delicious. What's this week's Saturday night wine and how did it come to us? It's the 2017 Torre Zambra Colle Maggio Pecorino and to answer the second part, good connections.

41 years is a long time to be in business, and we will turn 41 in less than two weeks! (Pssst - Yes, there will be an Anniversary Sale - stay tuned!) And when you're in business that long, you're bound to make connections. It hadn't been that long after we signed up Tiziana Settimo and her line of wines from Aurelio Settimo:  Dolcetto, Langhe Nebbiolo, and those amazing Baroli, that a package arrived with a range of samples from a producer in d'Abruzzo. Tiziana highly recommended that we try them and let her know what we thought. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves in the tasting room with the samples. There were the usual suspects one finds in d'Abruzzo, Trebbiano and Montepulciano, but there were a couple of other wines including a Pecorino.

Pecorino was not named from the sheep's cheese, its name actually was derived from sheepherders who ate these grapes while tending to their flocks in search of food. Italian wine grape maven, Ian d'Agata wrote in his tome Native Wine Grapes of Italy"Pecorino is not just a grape variety; it is also one of Italy's biggest wine success stories of the twenty-first century."

Wine Glass, Bottle of Pecorino, and Ian d'Agata Book
I have been on a Pecorino kick ever since Anya brought one in for The Dirty Dozen back in 2010. It's gotten to a point where I just have to have it when I see it on a wine list in a restaurant. So when we were tasting the Torre Zambra wines, my inner wine enthusiast was giddy for a taste of the Pecorino. It did not disappoint. That's an understatement. It was remarkably delicious! The aromas are of stone fruit, orchard fruit, and citrus blossoms. Its aromas alone are captivating. On the palate, it has a medium body and bright acidity which sweeps the aromatic complexity into harmony. I still can't get enough of this wine. Another reason I can't lay off in a restaurant, is its ability to pair with food. Often times, when one chooses the wine before the food, your dining options diminish if looking to dial in a perfect pairing. Not so much with Pecorino. This wine works with most seafood entrees and appetizers, and lighter land meats such as porchetta or turkey breast. I was over the moon for the Colle Maggio Pecorino! Heck, I didn't even have to taste any of the other wines to know we would be bringing them in, but for the record, all of the wines were outstanding, and they all represented excellent value at their respective price points. David and our staff were all in agreement. Any guesses who now imports Torre Zambra into California?  TWH, of course.

Things are getting interesting, we've got Halloween coming right up, and our 41st Anniversary the very next day! The rest of 2018 is looking like a rip-roaring good time. Oh yeah, Dungeness Crab season begins November 3. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Pecorino for the win. - Peter Zavialoff

Adventures In Brut Rosé

Saturday, October 13, 2018 7:27 PM

Adventures In Brut Rosé

An occasion to celebrate...

20 years of marriage! Where did the time go, my love? My husband and I enjoy sparkling Rosé, especially from Champagne. In the early days of our courtship, my husband wooed me with it. That was the right strategy to take with me as I not only loved the stuff, but also appreciated a man who was sure of his own tastes. So when the day came that marked our nuptials, there was no question that we'd be drinking Champagne Rosé. We drank the 2012 Labruyère Anthologie Brut Rosé, a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, all Grand Cru fruit. I was inspired to try it because a customer of ours, whose palate I respect, recently went ga-ga over the Anthologiedescribing it as being "unlike anything else I've tasted". I wanted a unique experience, and I got one. The Anthologie spends an extended time on the lees which creates depth and a rich, vinous structure. It is loaded with cherry fruit; so well-suited for main dishes, not just a ceremonial toast. Because our Anniversary fell mid-week and work/school schedules don't change just because you've shared a life over the past twenty years with the same person, we did not go out to a restaurant nor did we had time to prepare a fancy meal. Instead dinner was generously provided by my in-laws who made eggplant Parmesan using eggplant from my garden. The pairing worked beautifully. Needless to say, one glass quickly turned into two. We drained the bottle.

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Our Anniversary weekend, as it were, coincided with a visit from Alexandra Lièbart of Champagne Liébart-Régnier (she and my daughter share the same name!). It was a delight to meet her and taste through the wines her family makes from their 10 hectares of vineyard. Alexandra, now finished with her studies, is taking on a more prominent role at the winery. Some of our customers got the chance to meet her and learn more about this small, grower-producer Champagne house. After an impromtu tasting, the remaining bottles were divvied up between TWH staff. I didn't hesitate to ask for the Brut Rosé. Made from a blend of Pinot Meunier (50%), Pinot Noir (35%) and Chardonnay (15%), it has delicious aromas of Sterling roses and flavor notes of blood orange and raspberries. It has formidable fruit impact yet remains elegant on the palate. That evening saw another end to a busy day, so I stopped at our favorite local taqueria on the way home for carnitas tacos. And now a new tradition has been born! Liébart-Régnier Brut Rosé and carnitas tacos (move over fried chicken!).  What a super match-up. The fat, acid and salt quotient hit on all cylinders, thereby making the pleasure points in my brain explode. Just yum. 
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Our Anniversary weekend concluded with a quick overnight trip to Sonoma. It is rare that I head that way, but I never miss an opportunity to stop by at Gloria Ferrer Winery. I made arrangements in advance for a visit and was well taken care of thanks to someone who will remain nameless (but you know who you are!). The view is unparalleled, the hospitality is top-notch, and the wines are absolutely terrific. I have been a fan of Gloria Ferrer's bubbles for decades, really. We tasted through a flight with nibbles and for once, in a very long time, I felt relaxed and far away from it all. At the winery I tasted their vintage Brut Rosé, but here at The Wine House we carry their non-vintage Brut Rosé. It is made up of hand-harvested, estate grown, Carneros fruit. A blend of Pinot Noir (60%) and Chardonnay (40%) it remains on the lees for at least 2 years before bottling. It is a real stand-out for California sparkling wine. 

All in all, my 20th Anniversary celebration was as joyous and full of surprises and warm moments as the last twenty years have been with my husband (love you, Koshka). This and plenty of Brut Rosé.

-Anya Balistreri
Domaine Fondrèche and TWH, 25 years in business together!
Sebastien Vincenti and Mont Ventoux circa 2005

Twenty five years is a long time ...

But, believe it or not, that's how long we've been selling the wines made by Domaine Fondrèche. Nanou Barthélemy bought the domaine in 1991, and asked her young son, Sébastien Vincenti to help her out, and by 1993, Sébastien was a winemaker. With just vineyard land, Barthélemy and her son had no winery in which to make any wine in those early days, but family friend André Brunel (some of you may have tasted this Rhône giant's wines) rented out part of his cellar for the budding winemaker. Though he later graduated from oenology school, Vincenti still claims Brunel essentially taught him everything he knows about making wine.  

As longtime agent for importer Robert Kacher Selections, TWH was already stocking Brunel's wines, and my, they were delicious and popular! André must have convinced Kacher to take a shot at representing Fondrèche in the states, and Bobby recommended we get on board as well. The rest, as they say, is history; only that RKS was later sold, and we are now Sébastien's importer.A snowy Mont Ventoux behind Domaine de Fondrèche

One has to be impressed by the evolution of this relatively young man. Beginning at 21, he wowed critics early with his expressive, pure fruit-focused wines. He continued learning and evolving, tinkering in the vineyard, and began to experiment with organic and biodynamic practices. By 2009, Fondrèche was certified organic by French body Ecocert. 

As Robert Parker was nearing retirement, the market was changing. Wine drinkers were seeking out elegance and freshness over heft and power. Sébastien was ahead of the curve, as he himself preferred wines that were in this style. Constantly evolving, Vincenti changed some labels, began using different vineyards for different bottlings, and eased up on the extraction with some of his wines. After organic certification, Sébastien seemed to be headed down the natural path of experimenting with biodynamic techniques.  We noticed the uptick in quality vintage after vintage, and were proud to represent such a rising star! Then Vincenti made a surprise announcement. In early 2016, he withdrew his wine from organic certification over concerns about the long term vineyard sustainability of organic farming, namely the build up of copper in the vineyard.
 He believes certain synthesized products may offer better environmental protectionthan some organic alternatives, but they're not recognized by the governing body. We're excited to continue representing this visionary who is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.

That's why we were so happy to see a link on Twitter earlier this week to
 a blog post from Wine Spectator featuring Sébastien, and recounting his story.

Brand new, from our latest container are Sébastien's 2016 Ventoux Rouge and 2017 Ventoux Blanc. If you haven't had any of his wines lately, these two gems are proof that someday, when talking about an up and coming winemaker, we're likely to say, "They learned from Vincenti!!"

Debut Cru Beaujolais – Le Nid

Tuesday, March 14, 2017 12:11 PM

Debut Cru Beaujolais – Le Nid

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Moulin-à-Vent is considered by most to be the king of Cru Beaujolais. Keeping this in mind, you can imagine our excitement when a recent container brought with it a brand new producer, Le Nid, to our warehouse from this region. But for some strange reason we didn’t taste it as a staff right away. David was playing it cool, down-playing his recent acquisition. He obviously forgot how jazzed we get over Cru Beaujolais. He was probably just waiting for the right time to pull the cork. This week was finally the time and the response from the staff was unanimous – Le Nid’s 2013 Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle is a delight! For a Moulin-à-Vent, which is noted for its structure and fullness, the Le Nid is perfectly polished and rounded despite its underlying structure.

The Lardet family purchased an existing domaine and its six hectares of vines in 2012, renaming it Le Nid. Le Nid, or nest en français, not only reflects their raison d’être approach to farming but also to the notion of bringing family back home to the nest. Paul and Danielle Lardet are joined by their three children in this endeavor. Moulin-à-Vent’s mostly east-facing slopes are made up of a soil called gore or grès which has deposits of crumbly pink granite with seams of manganese in it, giving the wine its distinctive characteristic. The 2013 Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle comes from a single one hectare parcel, producing less than 200 cases. The average age of the vines are fifty years old. They partially de-stem the fruit and age the wine in neutral barrel for at least 12 months. The wine has the wild strawberry fruit, notes of undergrowth and mineral typical of quality Beaujolais, but has none of those tank-y, tutti-frutti aromas or flavors. It has a whole lot of black fruit on the palate with a delicious thread of vanilla on the finish. I enjoyed how rounded the flavors sat on the palate, but clearly has the structure that begs for food.

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The Lardets were fortunate to debut their wine with the 2013 vintage. The 2013 growing season in Beaujolais was blessed with a sunny July and August. The favorable weather continued on through a late harvest. This slow, long growing season produced small berries, allowing for a high skin-to-juice ratio. They submitted the 2013 Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle to the Concours des Grands Vins de France, receiving a gold medal. Not a bad way to start out! This is positive validation that they are on the right path to making noteworthy Moulin-à-Vent. Right now, Le Nid, is way under the radar, but I think fans of Cru Beaujolais are going to quickly change that fact.

So I’ve been sitting on pins and needles while writing this newsletter. I am missing my daughter’s play-off basketball game and haven’t heard any news. The game has added drama to it because it was scheduled at the same time my daughter was to perform in a production of Beauty and the Beast. It was a tough decision to make. She chose to miss this one performance (with the blessing of the director) to join her teammates, despite knowing the coach wouldn’t play her much, but felt she was needed there to emotionally support the team. Got to admire her for that! Finally got the call…they won by a point! Bringing home a bottle of Le Nid to celebrate, as it too is a winner in my book! – Anya Balistreri

Cantine Russo Part 2: The Sparklers!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 11:58 AM

Cantine Russo Part 2: The Sparklers!

Two weeks ago, I wrote about TWH’s new acquisition from Italy, Cantine Russo. I am back to share more wines from this Sicilian producer, but this time it’s not just wine, it’s sparkling wine! There are two: one Blanc de Blancs and one Rosé. It being the season of festive glass clinking, the timing couldn’t have been better to introduce these two exceptional sparklers. I must admit, when I learned that David found a producer in Sicily he wanted to import, I was elated. But when I learned that of the three wines, two were sparklers, I was less enthusiastic. How come you ask? Well, we already import a fabulous Prosecco,Cremant d’Alsace and two sparklers from the Loire, a Vouvray Brut and Touraine Rosé. Did we need two more? Upon my first taste of them, the answer was yes! Wholeheartedly, yes!

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There is so much to like and appreciate about Cantine Russo’s sparklers which they call Mon Pit. The name, Mon Pit, refers to the small craters formed on Mount Etna. Both the Blanc de Blancs and Rosé are vintage dated, produced in the traditional Champagne method and stay on the lees for 24-36 months. All this for only $25.98 per bottle! I know what I’ll be drinking both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve…

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The Mon Pit Blanc de Blancs is made from Carricante and Cataratto. Carricante is known for its marked acidity, so it makes sense that it could be fermented into a well-balanced, vibrant sparkling wine. The wine is golden-hued with a satisfying yeasty baked bread flavor. Persistent bubbles deliver flavors of honey, citrus and yellow fruits. The sweet fruit finishes with a yeasty, almond note. This is an elegant and serious effort at making fine bubbles outside of Champagne.

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The Mon Pit Rosé is made from yet another indigenous Sicilian grape, Nerello Mascalese. I describe Nerello Mascalese to customers as having the same type of perfume and elegance as Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. This Rosé is not tutti frutti, but is like the Blanc de Blancs – dry, full-flavored and balanced. The color is more peachy than pink and has flavors of dried cranberry, red plums with a pleasurable spicy note on the finish. It’s got depth and a yeastiness that distinguishes it from sparklers made in the Charmat method. I am sat here salivating, thinking of how magical this Rosé would be with some crispy fried chicken!

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Considering it’s a week before Christmas, I feel remarkably relaxed. Last year was quite a different story. I learned a valuable lesson from that incredibly stressful period that I am mindful of this year and that is that it is ok to let things go and not do so much. Christmas will come whether or not I’ve found the perfect gift for so-and-so, cooked the perfect meal or mailed out cards. As a wise man once wrote: “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” I’ll be spending Christmas with my family and for that I’m blessed. Here’s wishing you all to be surrounded by loved ones with a glass of bubbly in hand as 2016 closes out!– Anya Balistreri

2005 Sauternes: Sweet Sensations

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 2:35 PM

Notes From a Recent Tasting

I love Sauternes. Really. Loooooooove them! What I love the most about them are their complexity. I mean where else can you be but at a Sauternes tasting when you see these words among your notes: mandarina, pineapple, exotic, honeysuckle, crème caramel, luscious, prickly pear, honey, floral, banana, nutmeg, menthol, olive oil, candied peach, gooseberry, apricot, brioche, marshmallow, coconut, just to name a few. There is not a day that goes by where I’m not tempted to take a bottle home. Not a day. But it’s getting to be slim pickings out there. Well, we’re all in luck because the 2005’s are beginning to arrive. It’ll be a trickle at first, and we expect the rest to arrive throughout the year.   

Sure, we all know the Cabs and Merlots of Bordeaux flexed their respective muscles in 2005, got all the press (for good reason), which unfortunately led to ultra high prices. So while everyone is gushing over the reds, keep in mind that the weather was also perfect for Sauternes. Conditions were ideal for the noble rot. The period of harvest was unusually long, allowing vignerons many more lots to blend with than they would normally have. Take into consideration what it takes to make Sauternes (painstaking hand picking, in many cases picking grape by grape to find the fruit affected by botrytis … and that’s before the sorting table!), and this vintage is a downright screamin’ bargain!

I had heard all this already, just as I had heard all about the 2003 stickies. No doubt 2003 was an excellent vintage, but these wines need time to develop their complexities. So when David suggested I check out a recent tasting of 2005 Sauternes, I of course said yes, but was on the fence with my expectations. Would they be showing complexity due to the lengthy harvest period? Or would they be shy and sweet as many 2003’s turned out to be when they first arrived in bottle? I was blown away. Kaboom! Blown away. I wasn’t alone. These wines are exceptional. Tasting notes below the links to the 750’s.

Tasting Notes:

 

Doisy Vedrines: I’ve become more familiar with this producer over the past couple of years for two reasons: more affordable and delicious wines. This ’05 was when the tasting really hit stride for me. The initial impression of botrytis on the nose was unmistakable and profound, bracing the flighty nuance of white candied fruit. On the palate, the depth of the botrytis was felt, rich as Roman, with hints of blossoms, vibrancy, and that feeling you get when tasting a fine olive oil. From here my notes say: “Bam. A cracker.(something really good) Finish still going.” One of the ones for me and my budget.

 

Doisy Daene: Tasted directly after its Barsac cousin, there was a noticeable difference in aroma. The Daene had a much cleaner and precise direction to it. The botrytis was present, yet balanced with a hint of citrus which led me to believe there was more Sauvignon Blanc in the blend. If not more, it certainly seemed more prevalent. In the mouth, it was expansive with a hint of smokiness behind that luscious fruit which seemed to ping off of every sensor available. I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow, are they kidding? This is like the Bill Graham Memorial concert where Jackson Browne went on at 12:10. If he’s playing now, who’s coming on at 3:30?” Ah, but I already had the wines in front of me, so I knew.

 

Clos Haut Peyraguey: Once again I’m struck with a deep botrytis on the nose combined with aromas that remind me of what I had for breakfast: brioche, butter, and tea. The Clos Haut is round and soft in the mouth exhibiting delicate tropical notes of papaya, banana, and coconut. The acidity picks up mid palate and sends the whole package away much like a lover at the train station in the days of yore.

 

La Tour Blanche: One of the few producers to still use Muscadelle (5%) in the blend, the LaTour Blanche has an abundance of complexity on the nose. Yes, its bouquet is marked by expressive botrytis, I picked up a hint of petrol as well. On the palate it has a wide, wide mouth-feel that gives those dark corners of your mouth a pleasant pinch. It carries a spicy-sweet flavor profile reminiscent of honey toast, is concentrated, and has the stuff to last. One for the cellar. 

 

Coutet: Tasting the Coutet had to be the most fun. Here we all were in a small room, all quiet, swirling the same wine. Notes are being jotted down, sips taken, the spitting(romantic huh?), more notes, then all of a sudden, the euphoria we felt as a group couldn’t be contained, and smiles of glee and praise were heaped. My own note concluded with “Cover off the ball”. Hints of flintiness on the nose combined with the noble rot, and some citrus notes, but I had no idea what was in store for me. The wine showed amazing weight, sat perfectly on the palate, gained in intensity, showed off candied fruit and spice-cake among other things, and finished like the grand finale of a fireworks show. The hit of the tasting. Need I say more? 

 

Guiraud: Talk about a tough act to follow! The Guiraud has received a heap of praise, and rightfully so. There is an expressive floral/blossomy component on the nose that compliments the botrytis and lively fruit. In the mouth, one gets the sensation of creme caramel, interwoven with spice, a lively mid palate that has that feel of fine olive oil. The finish combines brioche-like flavors with fruit and spice and lasts and lasts.

 

Suduiraut: The Suduiraut was the wine that stood out the most for me. This was due to its delicacy and refinement. I detected the botrytis and candied orchard fruit on the nose in a addition to green tea, they just presented themselves in a restrained fashion. On the palate it was soft and luscious with that honey-toast butter/spiciness. There were hints of petrol throughout. On the finish, it faded slowly and appeared to dry out at the very end. All in all I really loved what they did here as the wine was truly unique in an amazingly good way.

 

Climens: I’ve been looking forward to writing this one throughout this exercise. You see I’ve never used “cookie” in a tasting note before. But there it is. Okay, it’s Chateau Climens, Lord of Barsac. 100% Semillon; it’s reputation precedes it. On the nose it’s back to the richness of the vintage: noble rot, allspice, walnut, petrol, and cookie. I must have meant oatmeal cookie as that was the only cookie I knew as a kid. Oh, there’s more. In the mouth I wrote, “Intense, expanding, menthol, full throttle“. This wine was not shy. In a word, it was a mouthfull. I was glad they saved it for last as we would have missed out on the nuance of the Coutet and Suduiraut had we experienced this one earlier. The finish was equally intense and faded slowly, leaving the traces of a lovely tasting of great wines seared in my memory.



Parting Notes

I unfortunately had two subsequent tastings that day, so by the end, my vision was a bit cloudy. But reviewing my notes really brought me back to the feel of the tasting and the energy that existed in that room. There were some interesting topics that arose that day. One I’ll share. When asked about savory pairing ideas for Sauternes, the usual were brought up (foie gras, cheese, etc.). Well one of the foremost experts on Sauternes here in the states said with a high degree of conviction that it pairs very well with Mexican cuisine. No kidding. I haven’t tried it, but I will. I’ll report back after I do. I encourage any questions, comments, or experiences with Sauternes pairing, especially with Mexican food: peter@wineSF.com – Peter Zavialoff



PS: I will not be in the shop tomorrow as I will be watching the Chelsea Blues vie for the one piece of silverware that has eluded them. May the best side prevail!

2005 Bordeaux: Volte Face Encore

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 9:19 PM

2005 Château Couronneau Volte Face Sainte Foy

First things first. I had some very good suggestions for good Dungeness prices. Thank you, and as promised I will keep these to myself. A customer likened me to a rug salesman for saying that we had limited quantities of the Floresta (from last week), and that it would be sold out. Basically he meant that I was frothing demand much in the way that jewelry store in Fisherman’s Wharf seems to be perpetually going out of business and drastically reducing prices. I must protest. That wine is very sold out, and I try to call them as close to as I see them. Sometimes I see a wine selling quickly. While I won’t apologize for hawking rugs, I am sorry there wasn’t much wine to go around. However, sometimes luck has it. The 2005 Volte Face St. Foy Bordeaux we offered in October was similarly rampaged. We had 25 cases and then 25 cases were gone. I said that we wouldn’t be getting more, because I was sure we weren’t. But it turned out there was a half pallet at the château in France, so David ordered it, and it has arrived, proving me wrong. Or as our customer pointed out, maybe I should be selling rugs for those carpet shops.

I’ve considered it, and I like wine better. I think the fact that we were able to find more of the wine at once makes me wrong and makes up for my wrongness. This is 2005 Bordeaux after all, so I’ll assume most will be happy we found more. Actually we had one (quick) customer who lucked out in the first round and just happened to call on Thursday to see if we had more. She ordered another case, and now that I think about it, I bet she never knew we were sold out for 3 months. Funny how that is.

Finally, you may remember we offered a special case price on this normally NET wine. Previous demand and a down dollar dictate that the wine should sell at full (or higher) price, but many of you attempted to order within the time frame of the original offer and were shut out, so we’ll honor that pricing for a week. I’ve included the original write-up below. – Ben Jordan

 

Original Writeup from October 2007
Just a warning. I may do a little wine bashing, brand name bashing to be more precise, Napa Valley brand name bashing to be even more precise. I hate to be negative, but when I think about Chateau Couronneau offering the high quality Volte Face at such a low price, I get upset about Napa wine costing so much. I’ll get to that later. For now I will say one thing. It hurts. It really does. There are so many great wines coming out of France right now with labels reading 2005, I’m in a frenzy. I feel like a dog dropped in the middle of a gymnasium filled with table after table of different kinds of meats that my owner never lets me eat. Steak, roast chicken, lamb, fried chicken, roast beef, venison, omigod is that chicken livers?! I love chicken livers! What do I eat first, what do I eat first! Rowrrrll! You may feel this way too, but you know what? We just have to loosen our collars and start eating. 2005 is the type of vintage that doesn’t come around that often. As much as cynics like to mutter sarcasms like “Greatest vintage in two months!,” implying that the next vintage will be just as spectacular, this does not apply to the under $15 French wines. These types of wines are rarely ever at this level. Sure they are consistently good and always values, but this is a vintage to find greatness in the little wines. For these types of French wines, this vintage is across the board better than 2003, 2000, and most years previous. I won’t call it advice, but I’ll tell you what I’m doing. I’m stocking up.
I’m already salivating (like the gym dog) over the 2005 wines I will be opening in 2010, 2015, and 2020, and about 90% of those bottles sell for less than $20. Petit Bordeaux and Burgundy, Loire francs and Chenins, and Rhone wines will all be treating us well, and we will be drinking well-aged wine for what will by then amount to coffee money.

There’s a new record. Four paragraphs, and I haven’t said anything of substance about the wine itself. First off, I haven’t seen this anywhere else on the internet, so our 25 cases may be all there is in the country. Be warned that we won’t be getting more. Volte Face is a new property for Chateau Couronneau located in Sainte-Foy east of Bordeaux proper. Volte Face is reserve to the Bordeaux Superieur. It is fashioned like a good Pomerol: Merlot finished in cask. The casks are bigger than those used at Petrus, otherwise it would cost a lot more.

The Volte Face, like the straight Couronneau I wrote about before, is large scaled in this vintage. We’re talking power here. It’s almost confusing to have a wine of this magnitude at this price. If you put it next to, let’s say Shafer Merlot from Napa, the only difference is that the Volte Face derives it’s complexity of smoke and earth from the Bordeaux terroir rather than the vanilla and spice of the oak on the Shafer. I’d turn down a glass of Shafer anything (yes, anything) and drink this instead. Why? I’ve been playing the allocation game with this winery for over a year now to restart a pitifully small allocation of the Hillside Select for our customers. They tell me buy the Merlot, buy the Chard, then we’ll talk. I buy, but no dice. We’ve been Shafer customers for a long time, now they want to jerk us around on a leash, and I just don’t have the time for it. There are other things to do here, ask any of us. Hey, the wine is fine, I’m not dogging the quality, but I will tell you that part of the reason it is so expensive is that they’re paying somebody to sit in an office and play around with allocations. Not to mention the marketing wing whose big challenge is how to spin their $45 Merlot that was damned by the faint praise of 88 Parker Points. So I say why bother when you can get rich, concentrated Bordeaux for $13.48?

$13.48 (with special case pricing) gets you true Right Bank Bordeaux with the length and ageability to please you through the next decade. I tasted this over 4 days, like the previous Couronneau, and it did nothing but improve, like the previous Couronneau. This seems to me a no-brainer for anyone who loves the Merlots and Cabernets of the Bordeaux region and wants to cellar the 2005 vintage. A case of this in your cellar, along with as many other wines like it as you can find, will help you weather many a mediocre vintage. – Ben Jordan

 

Tasting Notes: Mine for the Volte Face and Parker’s for the Shafer
Like I say POWER. This wine is a mouth-full. Compared to the Couronneau Bordeaux Superieur this wine is rounder and more approachable in youth, but it has admirable concentration that might make it even longer lived. As I mentioned, the flavors are Bordeaux, thru and thru: smoke, earth, and a touch of leather complement the rich fruit. The fruit is black for the most part, though pairing with food with acid, such as tomato sauce, brings out a black cherry red fruit character. Compare to the tasting note below, it is not lighter styled or herbal and it will last longer than 5 or 6 years. I’d bet Parker would rate this higher than the Shafer. And that concludes my definition of a no-brainer.

And Parker’s thoughts from Wine Advocate #168 on the 2004 Shafer Merlot.

“A blend of 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc, the lighter-styled, elegant 2004 Merlot reveals notes of berry fruit, herbs, coffee beans, and chocolate. Drink it over the next 5-6 years. 88 Points.”

By the way, we were selling the Shafer Merlot (actually it was sitting on the shelf not selling), but after they jilted us again, I slashed the price, and boy did our customers find it quick!

2005 Burgundy Value: Richard Maniere

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 10:10 PM

Last week’s Potensac offer confirmed that demand is still strong for the 2005 French reds. Especially the serious, ageworthy wines with reasonable prices. Though we will continue to see the arrival of the ultra-premium wines from this vintage, the values are beginning to move on to new vintages. I’ll feature a few more down the road, but I would predict in a few months we’ll see the end of these supplies. On that note, 2005 red Burgundy value. There is a lot to be said for truth in advertising. When you can look into, smell, taste a glass of Pinot Noir and say, “That’s Pinot Noir.” There are times when this is one of the most satisfying things that can happen in a day. Every thing else was drudge, or worse it was stress, or worse it was downright sad. But a glass of wine says to you, rather gently, “I’m Pinot Noir.” And that loosens you and soothes you. I almost burnt dinner (bachelor chicken) when I ran to the computer to write the above paragraph. And, yes, though I am married, I still make something called ‘bachelor chicken’. And my wife likes it. We had it twice last week. Which was too much. At this point in time I do not feel comfortable going into the ingredients or recipe for bachelor chicken.


In Burgundy, they have a phrase for certain wines: ‘Tres Pinot’. Very Pinot Noir, or as I understand it: the wine is firing on the levels that, for a Burgundian, define Pinot Noir. When a group of people has a saying that comes from over 1000 years of experience, I tend to think that’s a good saying. In contrast, sometimes they gently disparage a wine for being ‘hard to find the Pinot’. If you press them as to what they mean, they’ll generally respond those wines are overwrought in some way. This Manière is far from overworked with oak or extraction, and it is Tres Pinot by the above definition. I think it may be my favorite 2005 Bourgogne we’ve brought in, and the $18.69 price tag by the case is a great price for Pinot Noir from anywhere.

By now, many of you have sampled some of the Bourgogne wines from this vintage and you realize there is a huge range of quality and style. From the vague $12 wines (that we don’t sell) to the deliciously fruited almost Gamay-like wines, to the more serious ones with more serious prices to the deep, dark wines that are so formidable they make you wonder. Bourgogne is such a weird classification, because it mostly means ‘from Burgundy’, and after that those guys can do whatever they want with it. If I had to guess how the creation of this wine went down, I’d say: Richard Manière went to harvest and found his vineyard full of fruit that he was extremely happy with, and probably said something like, “I am extremely happy with this fruit that is going into my Bourgogne.” He realized he could get good color and flavors without too much extraction, so he was careful. Everything went well, and the wine came out clean and delicious. He put some or all of it into barrel (neutral, no new wood) and let it sit until bottling. At many points along the way he tasted it and remarked, “I am very happy with this Bourgogne.” Obviously there were some other steps in there, and I’m making educated guesses, but my point is that this tastes like pure, unadulterated Pinot Noir that the winemaker was very happy with. That’s the kind of Bourgogne we have here.

Those who jumped on our pre-arrival offer of this wine were very wise, in my opinion. For the rest of us (yes, I waited too), we get one last chance. And this is one of our final chances at value-priced red Burgundy from this vintage. We’ll see the 2006 Bourgognes soon, and that’ll be that.

Those who want to know if this is an $18 bottle that you can lay away, ‘yes’ is my answer. It would prefer another year in bottle at least, but it’s not like the Potensac that really doesn’t want to be opened for at least 5. I think an ideal way to drink a case would be to open 2 to 3 bottles a year over the next 4 to 6 years. If you find it hitting a sweet spot, then take advantage, but this has the makings of a wine that will see happy evolution and doesn’t have the overbearing structure to keep you from enjoying it now. I imagine there quite a few people out there looking for something along these lines. – Ben Jordan

Tasting Notes

Strawberries, cream are both valid here, but this doesn’t actually describe the wine as a whole. It smells like strawberry (somewhat, there’s cherry as well) and it has that nice 2005 creamy texture. So I can honestly say that it has both components in the overall profile without tasting like strawberries and cream. As I mentioned above there is a purity to the Pinot Noir here. And there is definite harmony. I can talk about cherries, spice, mushrooms, whatever, but the best tasting note I can give is that this is Tres Pinot.

ben.winehouse@sbcglobal.net

2005 Medoc: Potensac

Thursday, January 24, 2008 9:19 PM

Due to the popularity of this offer, we are sold out of our in stock inventory. We do however have more of this wine available (at the same price) on a pre-arrival basis, and it is expected to arrive sometime this year.

I’ve been thinking about how to write about this wine this whole week. I started many an idea and scrapped it. None really conveyed what I’m trying to say, for example: “This is like selling babies. They’re so cute, everybody wants one when they see one, but are we really as patient as we think we’ll be?” If you look closely at this metaphor, it doesn’t really work, plus I am against selling babies. It’s been a busy week, so I’ve settled for a more straightforward approach. For some reason I don’t recommend $23.98 wines that often, but that changes with the 2005 Potensac. Frankly, this is a great deal. So it’s not in that under $15 sweet spot, but it is pure value considering the material. It is serious, very ageable Bordeaux. We’ve sung the praises of the 2005 vintage over and over, and the reason I don’t feel bad about that is because there is so much good wine out there from this vintage, and my goal is to speak up when I taste/drink good wine, kind of like a public service announcement. I’ve admired this Château (owned by Jean-Hubert Delon of Léoville Las Cases) in other vintages for making impressive wines at exceedingly fair prices. This vintage is another story. This has the length and intensity of a classed growth, and it shows us that as much as it sounded like hype when those high prices for Margaux and Latour came out, this really is a stellar vintage for Bordeaux. Whether Latour is worth $10,000 a case is not for me to say, but I will say this is worth every bit of $288. I imagine that as these wines arrive on the market, they’re going to be a thorn in the side of Napa Valley producers. “Normal” Bordeaux vintages are a different animal than the average Napa wine, lighter and less fruited, so there’s no reason for them to worry about quality Bordeaux for less than $30, because the wine is different and attracts a different customer. But when they start treading on your turf, and making wines that take some of what you do best (ripe fruit) along with what they do best (integration, finesse) and selling for half your price … when a wine just over $20 has power, concentration, and the staying power to age along side or better than those $60 (and up) Napa wines, I’d be ready for these 2005s to sell out if I were them. This is not the $10 Bordeaux wines like Mylord which were delicious, but not incredibly serious. (Though that was a controversial wine, as it seems that there was some variation across importers. We had a very high incidence of customer happiness with the Mylord we brought in.) The Potensac has depth and extract, and should be laid away. Otherwise it will need a decanter and lots of patience. For example: This wine was finally opening up and showing its best on the 5th day after I pulled the cork. No gas, lots of oxygen, lots of beating it up. Those first few days it was, deep, dark, and yelling at me, “I’m young wine! Leave me be.” I yelled, “I know, but it’s been a couple days. Please.” Same response, “I told you I’m a young wine. Back off!” All the time there was no degradation or oxidation. When it finally relented its structure on day 5 and the fruit came out, I looked in and said thank you, and the last glass was delicious.

If you love aging wine, and you want a sure thing, this is a perfect example. It’s a great way to see what 2005 Bordeaux does when it really gets going and moves above the entry level into serious, contemplative wine. – Ben Jordan

Due to the popularity of this offer, we are sold out of our in stock inventory. We do however have more of this wine available (at the same price) on a pre-arrival basis, and it is expected to arrive sometime this year.

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