Muller Thurgau From Oregon

Monday, July 31, 2017 12:07 PM

My wine o’clock choice for Summer sipping while sitting on the front porch, whether I’m checking in on my mom by phone or greeting neighbors as they stroll by, is typically something light, dry and white, and preferably something low in alcohol. The 2015 Müller-Thurgau from Oregon’s Anne Amie meets all of my criteria. In addition, it has a delightful fruitiness that runs the gamut from citrus to fresh pear. Bottled under screw cap, there is an effervescent tingle that dissipates quickly after opening. It is a wine that is so easy to like and so pleasantly uncomplicated.




Müller-Thurgau is commonly found in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Northern Italy, Slovenia and much of Eastern Europe. Invented by a man named Dr. Herman Müller in 1882, it is a crossing between Riesling and Madeleine Royale.Dr. Herman Müller was born in the Swiss Canton of Thurgau, hence the grape’s name. In Oregon, only a handful of wineries currently grow the grape. Anne Amie’s twelve acres of vines were first planted in 1979. Luckily, despite Müller-Thurgau’s lowly reputation worldwide, Anne Amie has embraced their old-vine plot to successfully produce a wine of distinction and charm.


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It’s funny but true – I hear similar stories from winery folks all the time – aromatic varietals like Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Müller-Thurgau sell well in winery tasting rooms, but have a hard time making an impact on the wine market at large. I have a few explanations for this phenomenon. One is that after a day tasting one young heavy red after another, trying something fresh, aromatic and light on its feet is a welcome departure. Not to mention, not all occasions call for profound, contemplative wines. Sometimes the simplest wine is the most enjoyable one. Think of this 2015 Müller-Thurgau as the equivalent of the perfect Summer beach read – it’s easy to get and satisfying to consume.


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There won’t be any tropical beach getaways for my family this summer. Instead we opted for three tickets to see Hamilton, An American Musical. After nine months of listening to the soundtrack non-stop, it was satisfying to finally see it performed. We surprised my daughter with the tickets, who was left speechless when she saw that they were for that evenings’ performance. This weekend there will be more musical theater shows to see. My girl is performing in a production of Les Miserables as one of the “lovely ladies”, aka Prostitute #3. I couldn’t be more proud! -Anya Balistreri

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May 27, 2017. In search of tidbits of information about our habits over Memorial Day Weekend, I came across one which purports that 75% of Americans participate in some sort of barbecue activity over the three day period. Sounds about right, as my recollections of the unofficial start to summer are full of memories of good eats, good friends, and yes, good wines. A fortnight ago, I wrote a bit about Carolina Furque’s 2015 Malbec, and last week, Anya showcased a stunning 2014 value in the form of Château Sénéjac. If you purchased either one (or both), you’ve got some great grillin’ wine on your hands. But let’s have a look forward. Summer IS coming. There will be plenty of wines to chill and enjoy over the warm months, but some wines warrant stocking up on. David just slashed prices on a whole lot of our Burgundy selections, and two of these wines strike my particular fancy: The 2012 Auxey-Duresses Les Boutonniers and Les Hautés.


Auxey-Duresses is located in the Côtes de Beaune, just west of Volnay and Meursault. Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are planted there, the former planted on the Volnay side and the latter near Meursault. Gilles Lafouge is the 6th generation vigneron for the property which can trace its lineage back to the 17th Century. He makes good, honest Burgundy, wines with wonderful expression and balance. 2012 was another very good vintage for white Burgundy, joining a long line of high-quality vintages going back to 2004!


Though both vineyards border Meursault, it is the Les Boutonniers which is most like its neighbor. The 2012 Auxey-Duresses Les Boutonniers is awash with orchard fruit aromas mixed with dusty minerals with a soft, inviting palate. There is balance and lively acidity midway, with the ever-present Meursault-like softness caressing the palate throughout. The Les Hautés vineyard is further up the slope from the valley floor, and its soils are rich with limestone. The 2012 Auxey-Duresses Les Hautés is a lively, mineral driven expression of Chardonnay, much in the direction of a village Puligny-Montrachet. It has fresh aromas of citrus blossom, stony minerals, and hints of apple/pear fruit. The palate is sleek and nervy, and the fresh white fruit falls right in line with the wine’s structure. The finish is crisp, complex, and harmonious. These two wines are well worth their retail price of $39.99 per bottle, but now that they’re marked down to $19.95, it’s time to stock up. Warning: We don’t have a whole lot of either wine, and a little educated guesswork has me thinking that they both will sell out in the coming weeks. If you want to stock up on some delicious go-to white Burgundy for summer 2017, we suggest you act sooner than later.




Yep. Summer is on its way. The signs are everywhere. Just today on my drive in, as I passed St. Mary’s Cathedral (which was built on the site of a former Lucky supermarket where I remember grocery shopping with my parents as a small child), there were scores of caps and gowns roaming about, as Sacred Heart College Prep was holding their graduation ceremonies inside the church. Our local baseball team is not giving us any reason to be excited or optimistic this summer, but if one can stock up on some quality white Burgundy for an entry-level price, and enjoy them throughout the season, that is good reason to be excited and optimistic! – Peter Zavialoff

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Entre-Deux-Mers: Drink Responsibly

Monday, April 24, 2017 1:14 PM

Could it be because Pete just returned from Bordeaux, or that it’s Earth Day and I am thinking about human stewardship of the planet? Or is it because it is a wine I have frequently purchased for my own personal pleasure that I have selected to write a few words about the lovely white Entre-Deux-Mers from Chateau Ferran? For all the above reasons and more, I have the 2015 Chateau Ferran Entre-Deux-Mers on my mind. Entre-Deux-Mers is a expansive Bordeaux appellation but within it are a few choice sub-appellations. One of note is Haut Benauge and this is where you will find Chateau Ferran. Haut Benauge is directly across the Garonne River from Graves and because it is on high ground it is considered a choice location to grow wine grapes.


Chateau Ferran is a family-run estate that converted to organic and biodynamic farming nearly ten years ago. In preparation for this write-up, I visited Chateau Ferran’s website. The website has plenty of information about the winemaking, the farming philosophy and such, but there is practically no mention of the people who make the wine or run the estate. I think this is a deliberate exclusion. It suggests to me that the Ferran family places more importance on the land, the soil, the biodiversity of the vineyards, than on human intervention.


This Entre-Deux-Mers is a blend of equal parts Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with 10% each of Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle. I am drawn to the yellow fruit flavors, reminiscent of peaches and apricots, that linger long on the palate. It has no pungent, grassy flavors so often associated with Sauvignon Blanc. All tank fermented, with some time on the lees, it has gorgeous floral aromatics that bring to mind citrus blossoms and acacia. The finish is slightly creamy and is very fresh. It has filled in very nicely as my Friday Night Fish Fry wine, making a lovely match with baked, breaded Petrale Sole.




Julien Ferran is the current winemaker who took over from his father, Alain. Julien is a biologist by trade, so his interest in biodynamic farming is not unexpected (check out 

this video of Julien discussing geobiology in the vineyard). I know for many the principles of biodynamic farming are controversial and verge on the cult-like, but in my anecdotal experience with wineries who embrace biodynamics, I see a direct connection between the exhaustive, conscientious work down in the vineyard and the quality of the wine. This under $15 Bordeaux blanc is impressive because of the effort that went into it and the final outcome, its deliciousness.




Samples of Chateau Ferran were sent to us by another French winery who included them among their own samples. We had no prior relationship to Chateau Ferran when we tasted the samples. We knew nothing of them other than they were friends of a wine family with whom we were starting to do business. Based solely on the quality (and price) of the samples, we purchased a pallet of Chateau Ferran. This is atypical of TWH to pull the trigger so quickly, but good wine is good wine – we recognized it immediately, so we felt there was little risk.


The last few weeks have had a recurring theme for me that centers around the question, “what do you believe in?” I have been asking myself a lot of questions about what I am willing to stand up for personally, socially and spiritually. I’ll spare you my existential angst, but if I’m comparing two wines of equal pleasure to me and one is made by a small family who farms organically and/or biodynamically and the other is mass-produced, industrially made, I am going to pick the former every time. The 2015 Entre-Deux-Mers is coming home with me tonight. I am not sure what is on the menu, but I’ll start the evening with a chilled glass of it. Tastes good and it’s good for you! – Anya Balistreri

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Cellar Aged Chardonnay From Ici/La-Bas

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 12:00 PM


When you discover five cases of a 2008 Chardonnay made by arguably one of California’s most respected winemakers, who do you call? The Wine House! Mel Knox along with winemaker Jim Clendenen partner to make wines under the Ici/La-Bas label. Mel called a week ago and said he had some wine he wanted to show us. Any opportunity to taste with Mel Knox is a welcome one – I will always make time for him. Mel has an encyclopedic knowledge of California’s wine history and of wine in general. He began his career in retail, then started his own company selling French barrels nearly 40 years ago. He knows the industry intimately both here and abroad and has been an integral player in the advancement of California’s wine industry.



And so, Mel came by the store to pour us wine from Ici/La-Bas and from another project he is involved with. I wouldn’t characterize Mel as a typical sales person as he is truly candid and honest in assessing his own wines. A masterful storyteller, his visits are never a splash and dash. The first wine he poured was the Ici/La-Bas 2008 Elke Vineyard Chardonnay from Anderson Valley. Inventory management being what it is, Mel “found” a few cases of it in his warehouse. I wouldn’t say I was skeptical, I know how well Jim Clendenen’s wines age, I just wasn’t expecting to be so blown away by it. It was youthful, fresh, delicious and complex. The flavors on the palate unfurled with each taste, noting apple, pear, creamy vanilla, flint and mineral and a whole lot more. It is a truly Burgundian-styled California Chardonnay.



I asked Mel if he would email a few notes on the winemaking to me. The Chardonnay was barrel fermented in 228 liter Francois Freres barrels. A barrel expert, he explained that, “The barrels were made from wood from the Bertranges forest, air dried three years. Bertranges gives wine a bit more tannic structure, perhaps bad for short-range consumption of the wine but great for long term aging. The longer seasoning of the wood eliminates the harsh tannins and provides a more subtle flavor. We used about 35% new barrels.” The wine was left on its lees for an extended period, then bottled in the Spring of 2010. Now with almost seven years of bottle age, the wine is in its prime! How often do you get the benefit of a cellared wine for such a reasonable price? TWH is offering the remaining bit of 2008 Chardonnay for $29.98 a bottle!




I spent a portion of the morning reading online articles on Jim Clendenen. My intention was to use some provocative quote of his to highlight Jim’s reputation for being a non-conformist in the wine industry. If you’d like to read a couple quick articles on Jim, please click here, here or here. In my early days at TWH, Jim often came by with new releases. David was an early admirer of Au Bon Climat wines. I was also fortunate to have been a guest at Jim’s annual luncheon at his friend, Michael Wild’s restaurant, Bay Wolf, a couple of times. A tasting of new releases from Au Bon Climat would precede a lunch that always included cellared bottles – that is how I discovered how well his wines aged. Jim lives up to his reputation and I find him inspirational. I always left those luncheons glad to be a part of the wine business.


When Mel left the store, David and I remained in the tasting room discussing the 2008 Chardonnay. David, like myself, was impressed with the wine. He said that TWH might not be known as a California Chardonnay house, but when a wine is this good, we can’t pass it up. With that, I placed my order. Revel in this well-cellared wine. It is in its prime, will likely age further, but is really one to enjoy right now – be in the moment! It is a testament to the skill of the winemaker. It’s a show piece.


I’ll be buying some bottles to take home. I plan to stump industry friends with it, share with my girlfriends who are exclusively Chardonnay drinkers, and for when I am hankering for the style of California Chardonnay I enjoy most. The Ici/La-Bas 2008 Chardonnay Elke Vineyard is not to be missed!

Anya Balistreri

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Tasting Room Revelations – 2015 Ca’Lojera

Monday, February 20, 2017 11:49 AM

As I was taking out the week’s recycling this morning, I couldn’t help notice that the four wine bottles going into the bin were all Italian! This doesn’t happen very often. Though we do import and sell wines from Italy, we have soooo much else to choose from, that the odds of each week’s collection of half-poured, taken home samples to all be from the same country are big. Though considering that this week pretty much was Italian week around here, it does make sense.




Italian week. Yes, Gambero Rosso’s annual tre bicchieri tasting took place this past Wednesday at Fort Mason. Our friends, Enrico Pierazzuoli and Gianlorenzo Picollo were in town for it, as Enrico’s 2013 Carmignano Riserva was included in the tasting. Before they arrived, on Monday evening, we all found ourselves in a tasting room with a lineup of red wines from a Sicilian producer for whom we had high expectations. This is one of the ways we decide whether or not to import/carry a producer’s lineup. You can’t learn to swim from a book; and the same can be said about a wine’s tasting experience. Well, expectations being the harbinger of disappointment and all, it was a shame that the wines weren’t up to our standards. After taking in the aromas, Chris decided to not even taste the last wine. That’s how it goes sometimes. But as we often say, “We taste a lot of bad wine (okay, that may be a bit harsh in this case), so you don’t have to.” Many of the half-poured sample bottles didn’t even make it to any of our homes that evening.


Then Tuesday came, and with it, two of our pals from Italy. We tasted through their wines and they were all showing very well. There were no leftover samples on Wednesday morning! We tasted a few more of their wines on Wednesday, and ditto, nothing was left behind. Not even Enrico and Gianlorenzo. They were off to the east coast on Wednesday evening. Thursday came and went without incident, and then on Friday, the expectation/disappointment paradigm went the other way!


Winemaker Tiziana Settimo of Aurelio Settimo fame suggested we taste a lineup of wines made by some friends of her’s. The wines were shipped from Italy via air freight, and when Anya pulled them from the box, she exclaimed, “Ooh. The whites are from 2016 – these folks mean business. I’m really looking forward to tasting these!” First, David and Anya went through the lineup, then Chris and I had our turns. The consensus? We like them. A lot. As a matter of fact, we love them. Not only did all the samples disappear from the tasting room, there was noticeable tension among us while taking turns choosing which wines to take home. You will hear about them someday, when they get here; but for tonight, a similar yarn about an Italian producer whom we hold in high esteem: Ca’Lojera from Lugana.


Franco and Ambra Tiraboschi’s Ca’Lojera was David’s discovery. And as Anya wrote about years ago, he is not the kind of man who jumps up and down and screams, “Read all about it!” That’s more of what we do. David happily signed Ca’Lojera to our roster, and the rest is delicious history. Samples were shipped across the country for our staff to taste, and back at our old location, after we closed one day, we tasted the wines. Our reactions were very much like our reactions this past Friday, we loved them and could barely wait for them to arrive! With 5 successful vintages under our belts, we are pleased to announce the arrival of the Ca’Lojera Lugana from 2015!



A reminder: Ca’Lojera’s Lugana is made from 100% Trebbiano di Lugana, or Turbiana, as the locals call it. The vineyards are on the southern shore of Lake Garda, and the winery is located in the commune of Sirmione. (Um, if you search images of Sirmione, you may want to travel there soon). The 2015 vintage was a good one in the region, with healthy ripeness levels and well-balancing acidity. The 2015 Ca’Lojera Lugana has you at “hello.” Its fresh, clean aromas of rich yellow fruit, blossoms, and mineral greet you like a fresh breeze off a lake surrounded by orchards. The palate is harmonious and lively, the complexities abound, all threaded together by the buoyant acidity. The intertwined components all fade slowly on the crisp, yet somehow fleshy, finish. All in all, I have a lot of ideas as to what to pair this wine with. It seems to be as versatile as can be!


Well, Italian week has come and gone. We laughed, we cried. We tasted some wines with great promise, and we tasted some wines to which we will politely say, “No thank you.” We said, “Ciao,” more this week than we will over the next few months combined, and the thought of pairing Osso Bucco with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo will haunt me all day tomorrow. No matter what happens next week, I can be assured of one fact: there will be not one, but at least two bottles of Italian wine in next week’s trip to the bottle bank. For I am taking two bottles of 2015 Ca’Lojera Lugana home tonight to enjoy over next week! – Peter Zavialoff

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