Now that spring is into full swing, it’s time for the shift. Whether or not we’re conscious of it, we all make adjustments as the days grow longer and the weather warms up. For me, some of the things that occur during the shift include turning the heater off (done), dusting off and cleaning up the outdoor grill, getting the shorts and sandals ready, and making room in the fridge for more than the usual one or two bottles of vino! When entertaining during the warmer weather seasons, it’s a good idea to be stocked up on wines we like to call, “Chillables.” Here at TWH, we all have our favorite pet-wines, if you will; wines which we enjoy so much that we don’t mind re-tasting them again and again. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s comforting to have a go-to, or a wine that delivers on both price and flavor. Though in continuance with the goal of expanding horizons, I took a flyer on a new chillable earlier in the week. Maybe it’s because it’s neither Chardonnay nor Sauvignon Blanc; maybe it’s because it’s made by a rising star winemaker; or maybe it’s just because it’s pretty dang delicious, but I am a huge fan of the 2015 Domaine Pichat Côtes de Verenay Viognier!

Yes. I said Viognier. The most famous appellation for Viognier is Condrieu in the northern Rhône Valley. Condrieu is not cheap. A brief online search tells us that they start at about $40 per bottle. Stéphane Pichat bottles a Condrieu, though it’s closer to $60. Aha! But he also makes Syrah and Viognier under his Côtes de Verenay, Collines Rhodanienne label, and both are exceptional values! Pichat’s Viognier is a mere $26.99, which is, for a wine of its class, a bargain. With the full case discount, it is less than $23. If you are looking for a white wine with a touch of class and a modest price, you must try this one.

So yeah, I took a bottle of the 2015 Pichat Viognier home the other day. I heated up some dinner, poured out a glass, and sat down. I took in the aromas … lovely. Stone fruit. Apricots, peaches, and definitely a chalky, almost vitamin-like minerality on the nose. My eyebrows rose; Wow! I thought. This smells fancy. I went in for a taste … delicious. It has a fuller body with fresh acidity bound to the expansive peachy, apricot-like fruit. It’s clean, fresh, and expressive, and finishes all in harmony. I could get used to this wine, in fact, after looking at my personal invoice, it seems to have become a go-to for me.

Here at TWH, we act like a little family, so we know each others’ preferences when it comes to food and wine. When I tasted this wine, I thought of an ongoing conversation that I have with my colleague, Chris. We both agree that if we (employees) don’t plan ahead, sometimes we end up at a corner store or market spending $20 on a bottle of wine that we might not necessarily enjoy as much as we would had we grabbed something before we left work. This is considered an epic fail. I feel a pang of shame whenever this happens, yet every once in a while, it still does. So I came in the next day and stealthily brown bagged a bottle of Pichat’s 2015 Viognier and popped it into the cold box. As the day grew to a close, I poured out a couple of glasses and handed them to Chris and David. What is it? Blind tasting can be fun … and tormenting! I couldn’t hang on to my secret for too long, so I spoiled the party before they could guess by revealing the bottle. Ultimately, they were both very impressed with the wine. David’s first reaction was that, “Shucks, we didn’t buy enough.” And as much fun as it was to taste them blind on it, the main purpose of sharing this bottle was to further cement in our heads that it is indeed an epic fail to spend $20 at the market when that approximate amount could be traded in for a wine of this calibre. Something to think about the next time we have a bottle in our hands at the checkout hoping no one we know sees us. Anya wasn’t in that day, though I strongly suggested she try a bottle. She has and now she’s in the club too!

If one were to suggest to me that three weeks after returning from the annual Bordeaux trip that I would be talking about a fantastic Viognier experience, I would have had my doubts. Though now with the month of May on the horizon, it’s time for the shift. Keep the Viognier a-flowin’! – Peter Zavialoff

Inky, Dark, Spicy - Syrah at its Best !

Monday, January 9, 2017 10:56 AM

Not to belabor the obvious, but it's cold outside. And it gets dark earlier too. This signals the time of year when Syrah calls out to me the loudest - I hear you Syrah, loud and clear! A robust, full-flavored Syrah paired with a slow braised one-pot dish; now that's sounds good to me. As I look around the store, searching for that Syrah to satiate my craving, my eyes naturally fall onto our limited, but stellar selection of Northern Rhones. Of the two producers TWH directly imports, Domaine Belle is the most established. When I came to work for TWH in the late 90's, Belle was a relative newcomer on the Rhone scene and a true darling of Robert Parker who was a great advocate for this French region, propelling fervent enthusiasm for Syrah. In the 1997 revised edition of "Wines of the Rhone Valley", Parker concludes his review of Belle by writing it was "one of the bright, shining stars of Crozes-Hermitage, and this is an estate to follow". In my opinion, he was absolutely right. So what has Domaine Belle been up to in the two decades since Parker wrote that statement? They've been consistently making outstanding wines that fly under the radar!

Philippe Belle is at the helm, having taken over from his father Albert who retired in 2003. Fortunately for Domaine Belle fans, Philippe has sons who are being groomed to work in the family business. On his trip to France this past November, David paid a visit to Belle where he tasted recent and upcoming vintages. There he met with Philippe and his son, Valentin, who is currently studying enology at Montpellier. David sent a photo of father and son to me (I'm always hounding him to take more pics on his trips!) as well as a photo of the 2015 Crozes Hermitage Roche Pierre, which he captioned "one of the darkest wines I've ever seen". The 2015 Roche Pierre won't be available any time soon, but we do have the gorgeous 2012 in stock now. And though we bid adieu to our 39th Anniversary Sale, we will offer the 2012 Roche Pierre at discount for this email - regularly $36.99 per bottle, on sale for $27.95 per bottle!

Roche Pierre is a single-vineyard with vines upwards of 70 years old grown on granitic soil. These are special vines and Belle only bottles this wine in special vintages (otherwise it goes into Cuvee Louis Belle). We have the '12 in stock, and they made '13 and '15, but no '11 or '14. It is a wine that showcases the full spectrum of Syrah's appeal, from the inky color to the dark, black fruit to the spicy, smoky notes. The texture is rich with firm tannins. Less than 300 cases of this single-vineyard Crozes-Hermitage are produced. Jeb Dunnuck who has taken over reviewing Rhone wines for Parker had this to say about the 2012 Roche Pierre:

"I was blown away by the 2012 Crozes Hermitage Roche Pierre and it showed even better from bottle than barrel, which is always a good sign. Aged two years in 40% new French oak, it's certainly one of the top wines of this appellation. Cassis, toasted spice, leather, beautiful minerality and classic minerality are all present in this full-bodied, focused, pure and age-worthy Crozes Hermitage. There's no shortage of tannin here, so give it a year or three, it will have 10-15 years of longevity." 94 points #216 Dec. 2014

This weekend I will be celebrating a milestone baby girl is turning 13! A teenager. It doesn't seem possible. Her birthday lands on Old Calendar Christmas Eve (Happy Birthday to MTP as well!), so we'll first celebrate with a traditional Russian lenten meal with family then host a rip-roaring sleepover party with her BFFs the next evening. Call me crazy, but I love hearing all the girl chatter and laughter filling up the house. It warms my heart. Happy Birthday to Sascha, my sweet girl...many blessed years! And Happy New Year to all of you! - Anya Balistreri

Here we are on the precipice of Memorial Day Weekend!Chances are, the likelihood of any of us being around a barbecue grill is greatly increased this weekend as statistics show that approximately 60% of US households barbecue over this period. Bring it on! We just love grilling. I just received a phone call from my longtime barbecue maven friend telling me about a brisket that has been on the grill since this morning. Hmmm, what was it that Oscar Wilde said about temptation? It actually seems rather appropriate, now that I think about it, because it was10 years ago this weekend that I was invited over in similar circumstances. I wasn’t yet well versed with our entire inventory back then, so when I consulted pairing wizard and TWH alum Ben about what to bring, hestrongly advised that I grab some northern Rhône Syrah and all would be fine. How right he was! I made a reference to this wonderful revelation in a post last year, and will never forget it. Smoky barbecued something or other? Northern Rhône Syrah. Simple. Genius.
We’ve been well versed with the wines from Domaine Belle since the 1990’s. For years their wines have graced our bins, and we happily represented the brand for their former importer. A few years ago, we became the importer! You’ve probably heard us go on about Belle’s Les Pierrelles cuvée before. It’s a great wine for a great price.The Cuvée Louis Belle is a fancier, more serious offering. It sees some time in French oak barrel, 15% of it new, which frames the vibrant yet smoky purple fruit delightfully. This wine means business. We can say with a degree of conviction that finding a Syrah of this quality for less than $30 is an immense challenge, if it’s even possible at all! Again, as we mentioned in an email last week, it is our responsibility to provide our customers with the best wines for the best prices, because what matters most to us is your pleasure.
You can certainlytake our word for it, thatthis Crozes-Hermitage out-drinks it’s price point by a mile, but here’sThe Wine Advocate’s Rhône expert, Jeb Dunnuck’s take,“Even better than the Les Pierrelles, the 2012 Crozes Hermitage Cuvee Louis Belle (aged 18 months in 15% new French oak) has full-bodied, concentrated aromas and flavors of black raspberry, crème de cassis, toasted spice and sweet oak. Fabulously rich, structured and balanced, with building, sweet tannin, it will have a decade of longevity. 92 points.


This family owned Crozes Hermitage-based estate seems to fly under the radar, yet they’re a terrific source of beautiful reds and whites from the north.”

Whatever you may be doing, we wish you a happy and safe long weekend. May these precursory days to summer treat you well, and may you continue to taste great wines when the occasions to do so present themselves. –Peter Zavialoff

The Northern Rhône, to be exact. One of myfavorite pairing memories from my early days here at TWH was when I was invited to some friends’ house after work for “something that has beenon the smoker for hours.”With little first hand experience of tasting the wide selection of red wines on our shelves, I consulted our pal Ben, andhe put a 5 year old bottle of Northern Rhône Syrah in my hands. “It’s gotstructure and ample fruit, but this Syrah hasa smoky-meaty quality that will work perfect with your dinner.” The words are seared in my memory becausethe pairing was perfect. So perfect that my friends loaded up on the wine because their smoker and grill were used pretty often. That wine is long gone,but in the world of 5 year old (okay, 4.5 years) Northern Rhône Syrah, we’ve got a pretty dang good deal!


Crozes-Hermitage surrounds the tiny, and much more expensive appellation of Hermitage on the east bank of theRhône River just north of the commune of Valence. Syrah is the red grape of the region, and many of the winesfrom this part of the world have a distinct smoky-meaty-gamey nuance to them. That was certainly the case with the wine I mentioned in the above paragraph. Tonight’s wine has it as well, but there’s more!
One of the wines in the August 2015 Dirty Dozen is the 2011 Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles. Due to the budget of our monthly sampler, we could only include a half bottle in the DD, but as Anya advised me,“Our Dirty Dozen customers deserve a treat like Crozes-Hermitage!” A treat it is. The best way that I can describe it is that it’s a red wine that can do it all. It’s got enough fruit and balance to be enjoyed on its own, and now that it’s spent some time in bottle, it has the complexity to be enjoyed with your victuals.
The Wine Advocate’s Rhône specialist, Jeb Dunnuck had this to say about the 2011 Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles:

“Starting off the 2011s and another delicious, classically constructed effort from this producer, the 2011 Crozes Hermitage Les Pierrelles exhibits ample blackberry, pepper, underbrush and textbook northern Rhone meatiness to go with a medium-bodied, fruit forward and nicely textured profile on the palate. Despite the up-front feel here, it firms up nicely on the finish and should have a gradual evolution. This was a rock solid lineup from this tiny, family owned estate. 89 points”

Being August, I’ve made a point of hitting the farmers’ market each Sunday. The assortment of summer’s bounty is fantastic, with sights and smells that only come this time of year. Speaking of smells, I’ve had to wash a lot of clothes lately, mostly because I’ve been standing around a lot of smoking barbecues. I don’t necessarily want to do more laundry on my day off tomorrow, but if I have to, I have to. That’s the good thing about taking home a bottle of the 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles: The barbecue is optional. – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about smoked meats, grilling, the northern Rhône, Bordeaux, or English Football:

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