True Extreme Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – Fort Ross

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 8:09 PM

 
 
Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery
 
 
Back in the early years at TWH’s tenure on Carolina Street, a woman with long black curly hair walked in to our store, introduced herself and proceeded to ask a lot of questions about our business – who we were and what we did. Her South African accent beckoned John Carpenter out of his office, who before opening The Wine House had lived and taught for two years in Johannesberg during the early 70’s. They hit it off right away as this woman, Linda, was a whirlwind of energy with many interests. The upshot of the encounter was that Linda and her husband had planted a vineyard and were planning to make wine. She promised to come back to the store when they finally had it bottled.
 
all photos courtesy of the winery
 
This Linda that we met at The Wine House turned out to be Linda Schwartz of Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery, who with her husband Lester, purchased 976 acres of coastal land just north of where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean in 1988. Rather than hire people out to do the work, the Schwartz’s decided to become the experts themselves. Linda enrolled in viticulture courses and soon discovered yet another talent. In 1991 they began the first stages of their vineyard project by planting a test vineyard with an assortment of various trellis systems, varietals, clones and rootstocks, to learn what grew best in this extremely cool/high elevation climate. By 1994 they knew they needed to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and then took the next 10 years to plant nearly 55 acres.
 
 
Though Linda and Lester are involved in all aspects of the winery, to help them with the arduous task of making wine from this challenging terrain, they hired a winemaker. In 2009 they met and hired renowned winemaker Jeff Pisoni. This collaboration has propelled the winery further towards excellence as the latest releases from Fort Ross are stunning and quite frankly, right up my alley as far as domestic Pinot Noir is concerned. For my taste, the fruit is present and deep, but notably restrained vis á vis most Sonoma Pinot Noirs and the structure is firm yet silky. It all comes down to the vineyard, and there is little doubt that the one the Lesters planted is quite exceptional. Fort Ross Vineyard lies at elevations between 1200 to 1700 feet and is said to be the closest to the Pacific Ocean; about a mile away as the crow flies. Anyone who has ever driven along Highway 1 in these parts knows how blustery and cold it can be even when temperatures are spiking 10 miles inland. The vineyard pops up above the fog line and is able to produce ripe grapes despite the coastal weather.
 
 
There are two wines from Fort Ross that we’re offering: 2013 Pinot Noir Sea Slopes and 2012 Pinot Noir Symposium. The Sea Slopes is blended for earlier release from various clonal selections and is aged in 100% French Oak of which only 10% is new. The grapes are hand-harvested at night before the pre-dawn light. A colleague of mine worked harvest at Fort Ross last year. He told me they picked in the dark with lights on their heads, just like a miner, from 2 to 9 am picking bunch by bunch…back breaking work! The Symposium is a darker, more brooding wine, with pronounced black fruit flavors and warm spice notes. The kicker here is the inclusion of 4% Pinotage. I don’t believe anyone could actually pull out flavors of Pinotage from the wine, but clearly it adds something to it.
 
 

The long Holiday weekend will find me enjoying family time not too far away from Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery up at the family dacha. September is my favorite time of year at the beach on the River; the riff raff is mostly gone and the sun’s rays are more golden and gently warming. The Redwoods have begun to drop their needles and our heritage pear tree is ready to ripen all at once. According to my Instagram feed, grape harvest is in full swing all over California. Fort Ross is probably getting close, but out along the coast, harvest comes mid to late September. There is a lot of excitement out there as winemakers are thankful for August’s cooler than usual yet sunny days. Here’s to their good and successful labor!– Anya Balistreri


2014 Cannonau di Sardegna
Antonio Sanguineti
 
 
The new vintage of Sanguineti’s Cannonau di Sardegna has finally arrived at the store! The response to last year’s offer was so enthusiastic, we made sure to double up on quantities. That said, once it’s gone, it’ll be gone until the next vintage as we have only one shot at ordering this wine. The introductory 2013 vintage was delicious and I predicted it would probably end up being winemaker’s Antonio Sanguineti’s most successful offering. Sure enough, I was right. Antonio upped his production by securing more grapes from his friends on the island, those same friends for whom he works for as a consultant. So to those who bought the 2013 and loved it, I am confident the 2014 will not disappoint. As a whole, 2014 was a difficult vintage for red wines in Italy, especially in northern appellations where August rains caused havoc. However, these unfavorable weather conditions did not reach as far south as Sardinia and Sicily, where in fact the vintage is considered excellent.
 
 
Antonio in the forefront
 
Cannonau is the most widely planted red grape on Sardinia.The common belief is that Cannonau is the same grape as Spain’s Garnacha, though some purists and ampelographers aren’t so sure. After reading a lengthy article laying out a scientific argument for whether or not Cannonau and Garnacha are the same grape, I concluded that for most of the wine drinking population – who cares? What is important to note is that there is commonality in flavor profile between them and so it’s natural to recommend a Cannonau di Sardegna to anyone who is an enthusiast of southern red Rhônes and Spanish Garnacha or visa versa. Though I’ve heard from our customers on more than one occasion that for their palate, Cannonau di Sardegna is far more interesting and pleasurable than most Grenache they’ve tried. AgainMother Nature shows us that something planted here does not taste the same when planted over there – one of the many reasons why I find wine endlessly interesting.
 
Stocked and ready for purchase
 
Antonio sources his Cannonau grapes near the seaside town of Villesimius which sits along the southeastern tip of the island. Unoaked, this red is jam-packed with dusty berry flavors buoyed up by a complementary thread of acidity that keeps the flavors popping. The aromas are a mix of fresh and faded berry notes and some dried herb.Overall it has a smooth presence on the palate, making it pleasurable sipping on its own, though at the table is where it really sings. This is not a monster red, but it will stand up to beef and lamb. Fire up the grill!
 
This is how we do Paella! (no relevance to this newsletter)
 
School started for my daughter this week. It was a bit of a shock getting up so early for all of us except for the dog who remained snoozing in his bed. It probably wouldn’t have been as painful for me if I hadn’t stayed up so late watching the Olympics. It was well worth it. School might have started but summer is not over yet! I’ve got at least until after Labor Day, right? So far, this summer has been wonderful. Far less stressful than the last couple of summers and filled with family gatherings, visits with friends and excursions around Northern California. This weekend I’m going to lay low and catch up with household chores (mostly filling out and signing paperwork for school). A trip to the Farmer’s Market is a must as it’s SHOWTIME there with summer’s harvest in full swing. I’ll probably end up buying way too many tomatoes (not really, not possible!), squash and fruit. My husband will be grilling something on the Weber and the 2014 Cannonau di Sardegna from Sanguineti will be in my glass. Cheers to an endless summer!– Anya Balistreri

2014 Bedrock Zinfandel

Monday, August 8, 2016 6:15 PM

 
 
“The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco” is famously attributed to Mark Twain, yet there is no evidence he ever wrote or muttered these words. Nonetheless, the quote holds true. San Francisco has been blanketed by a deep and chilling marine layer. It’s Summer in the City! Driving to the store this morning, I had to turn on my windshield wipers just as I passed through the Robin Williams Tunnel and could see the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh, how I love this view!
 
Pagani Ranch
 
Shifting over to wine, there happens to be a winemaker, also named Twain, or more accurately, Morgan TWAINPeterson, who has been delivering some of the finest Zinfandel in the state. I’ve been singing his praises from his very first vintage, and like a proud mother (Morgan and my daughter happen to share the same birthday – how sweet is that!), have been telling anyone who would listen to try his Bedrock Wine Co. wines. The series of wines he makes from old vine, field blend vineyards are not just delicious but are a way of honoring these historic sites.Regrettably, the economics of producing wine has all too often led folks to rip out old vineyards containing Zinfandel, and who knows what else, that were planted by immigrants wanting to create a taste of home. Morgan has worked diligently to identify, restore and preserve these sites by founding the Historic Vineyard Society.
 
2014 Old Vine Zinfandel
 
Lucky for us, Morgan makes an Old Vine Zinfandel that is on par with his heritage vineyard wines in quality, but is more budget friendly. Morgan writes that the Old Vine Zinfandel is “perhaps the most important wine we make” because there is more of it than the limited production and highly allocated, single-vineyard Zinfandels, and therefore acts as an introduction to the winery. The Old Vine Zinfandel is also “an invaluable tool” because a few of the vineyards that go into this cuveé were neglected, old vineyards that Morgan has nursed back to life that are not quite ready for individual designation. The multiple vineyard sources that go into the 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel include Bedrock, Papera and Pagani Ranch. Aged in French oak barrels, the 2014 Old Vine is a tremendous value for full-throttle, well-balanced Zinfandel. Though I think most people will end up drinking this wine sooner than later, Morgan writes that he is pretty convinced “that it will age gracefully for over a decade”.
 
 
Naked Ladies along the fence
 

Without looking at a calendar, I know August has arrived.The night-filling sound of chirping crickets that lull me to sleep is my first clue. The second clue are the naked ladies that line up along my driveway. Naked ladies? Yes, naked ladies, aka Belladonna Amaryllis, those gorgeous, lightly-scented pink flowers that erupt from the ground, unadorned by foliage. And the third clue is the market arrival of my favorite apples, Gravensteins – tangy, sweet and crunchy! I’ll be heading north this weekend to escape the marine layer and get a little wine country action under my belt. For Sunday’s dinner on the deck, I am contemplating grilled tri tip with the 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel. Now doesn’t that sound like a proper summer meal! – Anya Balistreri

Sancerre Les Godons 2014
After three extremely challenging vintages, 2014 was a welcome and much needed respite for Loire Valley vintners. July and August did bring a bit o’ worry to growers as heat and rain ping ponged back and forth creating the perfect conditions for rot, but September came to the rescue with a string of glorious, sunny days. Throughout the region, you could hear a collective heavy sigh of relief.Philippe Raimbault’s Sancerre Les Godons encapsulates the best traits of the 2014 vintage, which is to say the best wines have ripe fruit in combination with enlivened acidity.
 
Raimbault Vineyards in Sury En Vaux
 
Philippe Raimbault farms close to 40 acres in three appellations: Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and the Coteaux de Giennois. He is one of the few non-negociants in the Loire to do so. Philippe comes from a long-line of winemakers dating back to the 1700s. Typically Sancerre producers use several parcels to make their wine, not just one contiguous plot. Hail is notorious for destroying crops is this region, so it is prudent to use grapes from several locations. For his Apud Sariacum Sancerre Philippe does just that – he uses 22 different parcels of vines which circle the village of Sury En Vaux. The Les Godons Sancerre is unusual as it is a single-vineyard that is south-facing and is shaped like an amphitheater. An etching of the vineyard is depicted on the label. Philippe’s grandfather purchased Les Godons in 1946. The exposition of the vineyard contributes to a unique microclimate. I find the Les Godons’ Sauvignon Blanc to be a little richer, a little more opulent, a tad more tropical than your average Sancerre.
 
Fossil Found in the Vineyard
 
The 2014 Les Godons has penetrating fruit flavors of mandarin, pomelo and passion fruit. On the nose it screams of Sauvignon Blanc but stops short of being assaulting. On the palate the ripe fruit flavors are escorted by a pronounced minerality. The Les Godons is energetic and, well, delicious. For an unoaked wine, it has superb texture and weight. The fruit Philippe is able to harvest from this special vineyard makes for a high-impact wine. It distinguishes itself from most Sancerre.
 
Pre-Friday Night Fish Fry Glass
 
Temperatures spiked in the Bay Area, even the inside of my house got sweltering hot. Except for the Thirst Gamay from Radford Dale, white wine has been the vin de jour all week. For our Friday Night Fish Fry, I was craving something thathad complexity, had substantial fruit presence yet finished fresh and lively. I looked around the store to see what I should begin chilling in our tiny staff refrigerator so that after battling end of the work week traffic, I could cool down with a zippy white. My eyes landed on the 2014 Les Godons and I knew I found what I was looking for. I was not disappointed. With a glass in hand, sitting on the front porch, greeting neighbors as they strolled past, I savored the lush flavors of this special Sancerre. Though it tasted nicely with baked fish, I was thinking next time I would like to serve this with a Cobb salad, substituting the Roquefort for Humbolt Fog. A splendid idea!– Anya Balistreri

Get Your Geek On – Gamay From South Africa

Monday, July 11, 2016 7:22 PM


 
 
 
Introducing: Thirst from Radford Dale
 
What is a geek wine? Among wine drinkers I know, a geek wine does not hold a negative connotation – quite the opposite. A geek wine is something that could be rare or less known, certainly not mainstream, and is most likely appreciated by a confident wine drinker (meaning someone who knows what they like and drink it). Thirst Gamay from Radford Dale is such a wine.
 
Where to begin? First, it is Gamay. Gamay as in Beaujolais, but this one is from South Africa. South Africa has only 32 known acres of Gamay vines. That is 0.0128% of total planted vines in South Africa. Leave it to super sleuth Alex Dale to find a vineyard with any Gamay. The Gamay Radford Dale sources were planted in 1984, sothey are fully mature vines with naturally producing low yields. The vines grow on a low-wire trellis system which allows the grapes to grow underneath the canopy, sheltering the berries from direct sunlight, allowing for good retention of acidity and freshness.
 
Alex Dale Modeling His Shirt @ TWH
 
In the cellar, the grapes were fermented whole berry and whole bunch. A portion of the wine went through carbonic maceration. After 3 months in tank, the wine spent a short time in old neutral barrel. The wine is neither fined nor filtered and a minimal amount of sulphur was used. The alcohol content clocks in at a whopping 11.5%!Approximately 500 cases of this unique red were produced which means TWH has 4% of the production.
 
Ok, so what does it taste like? I first tasted the 2015 Thirst Gamay back in May when our stock arrived in our warehouse coinciding with a visit from the owner and founder of Radford Dale, Alex Dale. A visit from Alex Dale is always inspiring, entertaining, informative and motivating. Alex has a lot to say and I like what I hear.The emphasis Alex places on being ecologically and socially conscientious in the pursuit of making wine is honorable, to say the least. It is not just lip service with him. I found the entire line-up of his newly arrived wines the best I’ve tasted yet, but it was the new line, Thirst, that had our staff captivated. The Thirst Gamay is light bodied. You could say it is like a dark rosé, but I think it is better to describe it as a very, very, light red wine. The varietal flavors of the Gamay are spot-on and recognizable: lots of red berry fruit, a dusty earthiness and a perfumed green note of tomato leaf. The finish has an exhilarating dryness to it just as fine cru Beaujolais does. The tannins are present, giving structure to the wine, at the same time the low alcohol makes for a light, refreshing drink. As Alex told our staff, “all our wines are built on an architecture of acidity”, so that is there too, giving lift and freshness.
 
The Line Up with Alex Dale
 
The Thirst Gamay is best served chilled. Yes, it is acceptable to chill red wine, especially this one. On a hot summer’s day or balmy evening, when you are craving red wine but can’t bear to open one because you know it will be too much, too heavy, the Thirst Gamay is a very good option. Certainly the Thirst Gamay is fine on its own to sip before dinner, or to bring along on a picnic, but it is also suited for main course meals. You’d think it was intentionally designed for salmon, as it goes so well with it. Thirst Gamay is not a frivolous wine given its light body and low-alcohol. As Alex likes to suggest it is meant for wine consumers who are looking for a naturally produced wine with little intervention. He also points out that a wine like Thirst is difficult to make both from the standpoint of production as well as the costs associated. I’m gratefulRadford Dale makes the effort.
 
Alex Dale & David Netzer @ TWH
 
I was finally able to spend a few days up at the River like I’d been hoping to do for some time. What made this tripnourishing and special was the convergence of three families under the guise of a wedding shower. Surrounded by this tribe, as we like to call ourselves, is where I am happiest! We don’t see each other often enough, but when we do, it’s like we’d never left each other’s side. Oh, and I discovered that my brother isn’t the only family member who reads my newsletters – thanks TH for reading to the end!– Anya Balistreri

Galician Albarino from Granbazan

Monday, June 27, 2016 7:33 PM



 
Granbázan Albariño Etiqueta Ámbar
 
Blank is the new blank, i.e. gochujang is the new sriracha, or poke is the new ceviche. You get the idea. Statements like these are everywhere, especially where wine is concerned. Allow me to give it a go – Albariño is the new … Sancerre. Albariño is a fresh, mineral-driven white wine full of attack just like Sancerre. And “Albariño” is fun to say just like “Sancerre”. But these types of statements can only go so far, so let’s dispense with the nonsense!Albariño is the name of a grape variety. In its native Spain (though Portugal can claim it as its own too), the grape is grown along the north Atlantic edge in the province of Galicia. In the early ’80s the appellation was named Albariño but was changed to Rias Baixas when Spain entered the EU (EU wine laws did not recognize DOs named after grape varieties). Almost all wine from Rias Baixas is white and of that most is made from Albariño.
 
 
A leader in advancing quality to the region, Granbazán was established in 1980 and today is spearheaded by the founder’s nephew, Jesús Álvarez Otero. The winery sits within the sub-zone of Val do Salnés, which is considered by many to be the best area for growing mineral-driven Albariño. The soils are mostly granitic. It is the wettest and coolest climate of any Rias Baixas subzone with an average annual temperature of only 55ºF. The gently sloping vineyards are susceptible to the maritime influence of the Atlantic, so the tradition is to grow grapes on pergolas. The pergolas can be as high as 7 feet and when the grapes ripen they are harvested by folks who stand on wine bins to reach the fruit. The visual effect of people walking beneath the green canopy of the grapes is extraordinarily beautiful, but it serves a purpose for the grapes. As the grapes grow high above the ground, air flows beneath preventing mildew and promoting even ripening. It amuses me to no end to see how inventive we can be when it comes to viticulture – wine will be made!
 
 
Granbazán makes a few types of Albariño. The Etiqueta Ámbar, my favorite, comes from their oldest vines which are 30+ years old. Only the free-run juice is used. The wine ages on the lees for about six months, giving the wine an exotic roundness and attractive softness to the finish. The intensity of the fruit flavors remind me of how free-run juice sets apart Montenidoli’s Vernaccia Fiore from their other Vernaccias. The combination of the free-run juice and lees aging, while it doesn’t take away from the inherent minerality of Albariño, does enhance the overall texture of the wine.
 
 
Its been two weeks since school let out and somehow my family is feeling more tired than ever. My husband, a physical education teacher, runs a summer sports camp for kids. My daughter goes to camp with him and is one of his “counselors in training”. It’s a lot of work for my husband and a lot of fun for my daughter. They both come home exhausted. We’re due for a quick jaunt up north to the family dacha. That bottle of 2014 Granbazán Etiqueta Ámbar chilling in my fridge should come along too. After a day of swimming and sunning, some grilled shrimp and Albariño should cap off the day perfectly. Gotta make it happen! – Anya Balistreri

A White From Carlisle? That’s Right!

Monday, June 13, 2016 5:59 PM

The Derivative from Carlisle
 
I like to boast about the fact that The Wine House started carrying Carlisle wines from the very first vintage whenMike Officer, then a customer of ours with a taste for Rhônes, began making small lots of Zinfandel. Eighteen vintages later, we continue to still stock Carlisle wines only now their repertoire has expanded to include several single-vineyard and appellation-designated Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah (to name a few) and of late, white wine too. The 2013 The Derivative is a complex blend of several white grape varietals from multiple vineyard keeping in line with Carlisle’s zeal for sourcing old-vine fruit.
 
Semillon at Monte Rosso Vineyard
 
The base of the wine is Semillon, about half of the blend, from the famed and historic Monte Rosso Vineyard.Monte Rosso Vineyard is named for its rich, red volcanic soils and lies on the last high flank of the Mayacamas Range. The Semillon grown here was first planted in 1890. To this Mike adds Muscadelle from three different vineyards, and Colombard from Mancini Ranch. At the corner of Piner and Olivet Roads just west of Santa Rosa,Mancini Ranch was planted by Lucca Mancini in 1922.The Colombard adds a significant acid component, adding lift and zip to the wine. Only the Semillon was fermented in oak and of that, only 20% was new. The rest of the grapes were fermented in tank. Phew, that was a lot of information I realize, but I find it interesting to know how the pieces fit together to make a harmonious, complex wine. The wine is golden-hued with honey, grapefruit and beeswax notes. It has firm structure and the acid is notable and pleasant.
 
Saitone Ranch
 
On a recent Monday morning, Peter said to me “guess what I drank yesterday?”. I of course had no idea, but my best guess was “Bordeaux”. Nope, he drank a glass of The Derivative with Sunday lunch at a restaurant. I hadn’t tasted it yet, so I asked what he thought of it. He told me he liked it very much and that it reminded him of White Bordeaux. Hmmm…that sounded intriguing to me. The winery notes on The Derivative specifically suggest that fans of White Bordeaux would find this wine “right up your ally”. I have to admit that when I took the wine home to try for myself, because of the percentage of Semillon, I had in mind a much different flavor profile. I expected it to be oily and round, but what I tasted was far more stealth and lively … like White Bordeaux. The grapefruit and spearmint flavors are followed by a slight oxidative note reminding me of the bottles of 1998 Domaine de Chevalier I polished off just a while back. In flavor and in structure, this wine suggests it will age quite comfortably. I would be curious to know how this wine evolves over time. For right now though, it is pretty delicious.
 
Mike Officer
 
I siphoned off a bit of The Derivative into a vial to share with the guys at the store. I served them a taste blind just to make it more interesting. Chris, David and Pete liked it immediately and with some deductive reasoning, Pete recognized the wine as being the one he had at Sunday lunch. Chris remarked that he wished he could taste the wine with food, thinking that it would perhaps show differently. I got excited by his comment because I knew it to be true. As the cliché goes, The Derivative is a food wine.The Derivative takes on a much broader flavor spectrum with food and its acidity cradles rich, creamy flavors to higher heights. I write this because I know – at home the glass I tried became far more opulent and showy when I drank it with my dinner.
 
2013 The Derivative
 
Over the last eighteen vintages, I have witnessed the evolution of a winery go from a small unknown to one widely recognized as being one of the finest producers in California. An online wine forum that I follow from time to time – they claim to be “The World’s Largest and Most Active Online Wine Community”- even has a thread that reads “Which Carlisle are you drinking”? The thread has over 6,000 posts. Not just any winery can command that much interest and devotion.
 
School’s out for Summer! Alice Cooper’s lyric looped inside my head as I drove my daughter to her last day of 6th grade. I think I may be more excited than she is about the start of summer. I am hoping to slow down the pace, go outside, explore. As someone wisely said in a movie I watched with my daughter (her choice) last weekend, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Anya Balistreri
Poco a Poco Zinfandel
Zinfandel reached American shores approximately 200 years ago. Soon after arriving, Zinfandel travelled west to California where it flourished, achieved success and has become so respected and adored that it is now commonly accepted to refer to it as America’s grape. A true American wine tale. I understood its allure early in my wine life. Zinfandel makes a wine that is easy to grasp and appreciate. The flavors are bold and forward; the pleasure is immediate. For me the connection is Zinfandel + Russian River = family + summer + good times. That’s why to mark the unofficial start of summer, a bottle of Zinfandel will trek up north with me to the family dacha this weekend. What will I be toting along? Poco a Poco’s 2014 Russian River Zinfandel.
 
Winemaker Luke Bass
Poco a Poco is a line of wines made by Luke Bass of Porter Bass Vineyards. Luke sources organic grapes along with his own biodynamically grown grapes to make easy, immediately accessible, well-crafted wine at more than fair prices. Thinking about this now, I can’t really come up with too many other producers who are deliberately using grapes of this quality to make value-priced wine on a small scale. Maybe there is no glory in it or probably the economics don’t play out well enough. All this means is that this wine buyer spends a lot of time combing through offers, meeting with vendors and keeping her eyes and ears open to who’s doing what to find such a gem.
 
Luke and Son on tractor
The 2014 Zinfandel is sourced from the Forchini family that owns a 24 acre vineyard 1/2 mile east of the Russian River just south of Limerick Lane. The vineyard is farmed organically. Luke, as he does with all his wine, approaches winemaking by celebrating the grape. For this Zinfandel, he fermented the grapes with native yeast andaged the wine in neutral French oak. Pretty straightforward, if you ask me. The resulting wine capturesthe zesty berry burst of Zinfandel allowing the tanginess of the fruit to emerge. Not soupy or marred by oak notes, this is a resoundingly bright natured Zinfandel. The inherent acidity will play nicely at the table, especially with bold-flavored grilled fare and won’t shy away from American barbecue.
 
Hacienda Bridge
I called my mom to find out what was on the menu for the family get-together dinner. She said “the usual Zaharoff cook-out…Bulgogi, rice, fresh cabbage salad, bean sprouts salad and a bunch of other stuff”. For years growing up I thought the classic Korean Bulgogi was actually a Russian dish. It is not a far stretch to imagine how a Russian immigrant family came to adopt classic Korean dishes as their own and turning it into their American tradition, serving it on National Holidays at family gatherings. I am excited to see how the Poco a Poco Zinfandel will soak up the savory flavors of the rum-marinated beef and sesame seed oil seasoned salads. I think its going to be a sensational pairing. And yes, Kon, I really am bringing a bottle of this wine to the River! – Anya Balistreri

2013 Domaine Fondreche Ventoux Rouge

Friday, May 20, 2016 6:14 PM


Domaine de Fondrèche Ventoux Rouge

Hands down, the most important producer in the Ventoux, Domaine de Fondrèche continues to evolve – adjusting, experimenting, remaining dynamic. From the start, I’ve been drawn to winemaker Sébastien Vicenti’s wines for they encompass deep fruit expression with captivating spice and herb notes. Success and accolades haven’t stifled Sébastien’s drive to make the finest wine possible. Not at all. For the 2013 vintage, and going forward, the winery will no longer be making their special cuvée, Nadal. Nadal, a Grenache-based blend, garnered high scores and was one of my all-time favorite Rhône reds carried at TWH. So where is all that old-vine Grenache going to go? My guess is that it all went into the 2013 Ventoux and is possibly the reason why this vintage is so incredibly dense and chewy. I should be more upset that my beloved Nadal is no more, but the sting of that loss is easily mitigated by the impressive bottling of the 2013 Ventoux.

 

Bobby Kacher with Sèbastien
 

Another change at the winery, but one of less consequence than the demise of Nadal, is that their Ventoux rouge has dropped the name “Fayard”. So henceforth, I’ll be calling Fondrèche’s basic red, the Ventoux rouge. The 2013 Ventoux rouge is half Grenache, 40% Syrah and the balance, Mourvèdre. Sébastien Vicenti is a strict practitioner of organic farming, and though is not certified as such, closely follows the principles of biodynamic farming. In interviews, Sébastien emphasizes the connection between the natural harmony of the land and soil to the grapes. His credo in the vineyard carries over into the winery, where he strives to do “less” to attain “more” from the grapes. The 2013 Ventoux rouge is aged in a combination of egg-shaped concrete tanks, barrels and Foudres. This makes for a very texturally rich and engaging wine. The French publication, Le Guide Hachette des Vins, described it as “chewable”, noting its generous palate as round and silky. The Le Guide Hachetteeven bestowed a coveted “Coup de Coeur”, suggesting it is a wine worthy to investigate, irrespective of price. Good newshere as it relates to price is the 2013 Ventoux rouge is $16.99 per bottle, getting down to $14.44 when purchased by the case or as part of a mixed one! A stunning bargain!

 
Domaine de Fondrèche
 

All this gushing over the wine does come with a recommendation and it is this: Be prepared to decant. In Sébastien’s effort to control the freshness of the grapes, the resulting wine is in need of oxygen to release its full potential. Can you pop the cork, pour a glass straight out of the bottle and enjoy it? Sure, that is perfectly acceptable, but I want to suggest getting the wine some air to really set off the bevy of sweet spices and licorice notes you get on the nose. It is one of those wines that can be enjoyed one glass at a time over the course of several days from the bottle. It won’t fall apart quickly.

 
Second Growth, baby!
 

Some weeks are good “food” weeks and other are good “wine” weeks. For me, this week was both. It began last Saturday night when my husband and I went to La Folie. The dinner was my Valentine Day’s present. Flowers and jewelry are good choices, but so is a fine meal! It was our first time at La Folie and, though I don’t normally do so, I brought along a special bottle of wine – 2000 Puligny Montrachet Les Combettes from Etienne Sauzet (Thank you to my Fairy Wine-Father!). We dined for nearly 4 hours! A tear ran down my face as the last sweet amuse bouche was served. On Tuesday I attended an Italian wine tasting hosted at Acquerello. Typically at trade tastings some cheese and bread may be offered, but this being an Italian restaurant, there were also platters of salumi and olives, while small plates with either penne al sugo or truffled risotto were passed. I returned to the store in time to taste through some Bordeaux that a visiting Négociant was pouring for Pete and David. We tasted multiple vintages of Brane Cantenac, Nenin and…Leoville Las Cases! Wipe me off the floor! AND at a staff tasting I got to try the 2013 Ventoux rouge from Fondrèche. OK, I’ll stop, though I could go on. Yep, a very good food and wine week.

– Anya Balistreri

Spotlight On A Sicilian Estate: Di Giovanna

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 6:25 PM


 
When you search on the internet for Riserva Naturale Monte Genuardo, the results are entries written in Italian, nothing pops up in English. Talk about “off the beaten path”. Nestled near this protected land is where you will find the vineyards belonging to Di Giovanna. Located approximately 42 miles southwest of Palermo, on the side of the triangle that faces the Mediterranean, Di Giovanna occupies an unique location and history for Sicilian wine production. It is a special winery that pushes for quality while offering the wines at market for a very fair price. Di Giovanna wines over deliver for price.
 
Klaus and Gunther Di Giovanna
 
I first met Gunther Di Giovanna three years ago. Yes, Gunther. Not your typical Sicilian name! His Sicilian father Aurelio married German-born Barbara, hence the name. Gunther’s brother, Klaus, partners with him to manage production from the vineyards to the wine cellar. I liked the wines then and brought in the Nerello Mascalese to stock at The Wine House. Very soon after, their American importer ceased operating in California, so I was no longer able to buy it for the store. Back in the California market,Gunther paid me a visit to present their new wines. I could readily detect an even finer quality to the wines than before.
 
Di Giovanna Vineyards
 
Though wine production at Di Giovanna can be traced back to 1860, it was 1985 when Aurelio and Barbara decided to make a serious go at making fine wine on their family’s estate. There was much work done in the vineyards to identify soils and microclimates. Aurelio hired friend and famed Bordeaux oenologist Denis Dubourdieuto consult at the estate. The Di Giovannas were intent on making the best possible wine, bucking common Sicilian wine practices of the time that favored higher yields and bulk production. Gunther and Klaus inherited their parents’ strong commitment and appreciation for their land and winery. During my conversation with Gunther, I learned that he spent many years working in corporate business on mainland Italy and Germany before returning to Sicily to work at Di Giovanna. He tells me that now he is never tired. His work at the winery energizes and inspires him, bringing joy every day.
 
Another view of Di Giovanna
 
I have included photos that I borrowed from Di Giovanna’s Facebook page. As you can see, the winery is remote, farfrom civilization. You don’t see other wineries – there aren’t any but Di Giovanna – nor towns or many homes. The elevation of the five main vineyards range from 1100 to 2800 hundred feet! Their immediate surroundings are pristine. The winery has traditionally farmed organically, but became certified organic in 1997. It is indeed a special place.
 
 
My collection of Pysanky
 
I celebrated Eastern Orthodox Easter May 1. My family and friends (it was a small crowd with only 31 in attendance)gathered at the River on the deck to feast on Russian delicacies and some non-traditional, but revered, dishes. It was a glorious day as the weather was warm, the freshness of spring was in the air and the company convivial. Everyone was exactly where they wanted to be and it felt good. I live for those moments; it makes everything else worth it. I suspect Gunther and Klaus have similar moments at their family’s estate tucked high above Sambuca di Sicilia. Life is bedda!

Mas de Bressades
2012 Cabernet – Syrah Les Vignes de Mon Père
 
There was a big announcement over at The Wine Advocatethat Robert Parker Jr. was passing the baton over to Neal Martin, who will now be the sole reviewer of Bordeaux for the publication. For those of us who follow such things, this is a big deal. Yes, Parker has been reviewing far fewer wines, nevertheless, his impact on the wine industry lingers – especially in Bordeaux and California. What I have observed over the past five years or so is that because Parker is not featuring the portfolios of favored importers as frequently as he once did, the frenzy for some of the exceptional, under-the-radar values that he would highlight has faded. That is a shame. Case in point, the Cabernet-Syrah from Mas de Bressades has not been reviewed in The Wine Advocate for many, many vintages. However, if you were to look up past reviews for this wine you would see mostly scores of 90 & 91 points. Pretty impressive for a wine under $25. Back when I started at TWH, the Mas de Bressades Cabernet-Syrahwas practically doled out case by case. Everyone had readhow terrific the wine was and it had generated a loyal following among those searching for elevated French “country” wine.
 
 
TWH recently purchased the remaining stock of the Mas de Bressades 2012 Cabernet-Syrah at a crazy good price and we’re passing along the savings! It has been awhile since I last tasted a bottle, but I fondly remember the Mas de Bressades Cabernet-Syrah as being the jewel in the crown of Robert Kacher Selections’ offerings from the Costières de Nîmes. Bobby Kacher was a trailblazer in this region, recognizing its great potential for quality wineand began importing the best ones to the US nearly thirty years ago. The Costières de Nîmes was formerly lumped with eastern Languedoc wines, but the soil and climate more closely resembles southern Rhône. Therefore,Costières de Nîmes is now officially part of the Rhône Valley.
 
 
Mas de Bressades’ winemaker, Cyril Mares, is a sixth generation winemaker. His father, Roger, purchased the estate in the early ’60s. Cyril has added the moniker Les Vignes de Mon Pèreto the Cabernet-Syrah in honor of his father and, I think, to emphasis the old-vine pedigree of the grapes. The old-vine character of this wine is palpable; deep berry compote fruit gives way to cedar notes with a rich cassis finish. The wine is supple and coats the mouth with warm, sultry flavors. The blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah. I like to tell customers that it has the structure of Cabernet but with the elegant fruit notes of Syrah. Far from being rustic, this is French country wine at its best. You get fancy textureand flavors from the oak aging, the ripeness of the regionbut without the pearl clutching price of so many other notable French regions. This wine, though full-bodied, is suitable for showy main course masterpieces as well as more humble fare. You can even enjoy a glass on its own, if that is what the occasion calls for.
 
 
In my last post, I mentioned plans for a seaside escape. I am happy to report that the getaway was fabulous! Lots of happy memories made in four fun-filled days. We went to stay at a beachfront hotel in Santa Cruz with a group of friends with lots of children in tow. On the first evening of our arrival, while the children continued to play in the pool, the adults gathered around the gas fire pit to keep warm and chat. I shared the Mas de Bressades 2012 Cabernet-Syrah which we drank from hotel room water glasses. I am grateful to the tolerant hotel staff who kindly overlooked our bad behavior for breaking the “pool rules”.The warming flavors of the wine echoed the warming flames, enhancing the beauty of our surroundings. My friends, expecting a wine this tasty to be expensive, were shocked when I told them TWH sells it for $14.95! Such a deal! Share some bottles with your friends – I am confident they’ll also be impressed. – Anya Balistreri

de Tarczal’s Marzemino d’Isera
 
West of the Adige River and south of Trento is where the grapes for de Tarczal’s Marzemino d’Isera grow. Here the soils are anutrient-rich basalt, a volcanic rock. Marzemino, a grape whose history can be traced back to the 15th century as having been grown in Trentino, was once greatly favored among the aristocracy. In more modern times, the grape has been overshadowed by other regional varietals like Teroldego and Lagrein. Only a few non-cooperative, family-run estates, like de Tarczal, still bother to vinify it. A dark-skinned, late-ripening grape, the challenge historically has been to get it fully ripened and to prevent vine disease.
 
 
As you would probably guess by now, de Tarczal can trace its family history of making wine far back in time. An admiral in the Austro-Hungarian army, Gèza Dell’Adami de Tarczal married the Countess Alberti, whose family was well-established in Trentino, and the rest is wine-making history. Today their direct descendentRuggero de Tarczal makes the wine and runs the winery which also houses a small restaurant serving regional specialities.
 
 
Apart from the wines TWH imports directly from Italy, the Italian wines we carry are purchased primarily from a select handful of like-minded local importers who prefer to champion small, family-run estates. One such importer makes biannual offers for wines that areeither too limited or specialized to offer throughout the year. That is how the 2013 Marzemino d’Isera from de Tarczal came to our attention. Of the many wines poured that day, the Marzemino was one that I made sure had plenty left in the glass for the gang to try. I was captivated by the freshness and elegant fruit quality of thisMarzemino. I had a strong hunch this wine would meet with approval, though I was still on the fence about ordering the wine for the store. After all, how often does someone come in asking for a Marzemino? Not often, I can assure you. Unusual or uncommon varietals aren’t ones we would normally shy away from, but still, you need to make smart buying decisions.
 
 
At any rate, the work day ended and I invited the crew to sample the day’s winners. The 2013 Marzemino was a hit as I suspected. The Loire-ish quality of the wine, with its strawberry fruit flavors and appealing herbal notes, met well with everyone’s palates. Though my notes included many emphatically underlined words, it was a comment by Pete that best summed up our collective thoughts on the wine. He said the 2013 Marzemino d’Isera “smells like someone buried a jellybean”! I love that image of a delicious confection buried underneath dirt and earth. This red really does exhibit a lovely, playful back and forth between its fruit and soil notes.
 
My daughter’s middle school has its Spring Break this week. We will be taking a much needed respite, high-tailing it out of town for some seaside rest and relaxation. I am looking forward to a change of scenery, some unscripted free-time and making new memories with friends. I will be bringing a few bottles along for the ride to enjoy poolside (that is if the rain doesn’t drive us indoors). Either way, I am so excited to be going anywhere,nothing is going to dampen my spirit! – Anya Balistreri

2012 Bodkin Dry Creek Valley Chardonnay

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 10:36 PM


Bodkin Chardonnay – The Fearless
Just like with people, you often know whether you like a wine or not in the first 10 seconds. The aromas and flavors of Bodkin’s 2014 Chardonnay drew me in immediately and before the wine rep could screw back on the cap and put the bottle away in his wine tote, I placed an order. I don’t usually pull the trigger this quick. I like to mull over my decisions. Does this wine have an audience? Is it distinctive? Is there value for our customers?These questions were easily answered “yes” with one sip.
 
 
I had heard the buzz on Bodkin wines. New on the scene,Bodkin specializes in Sauvignon Blanc and has received much praise for producing the first ever sparkling wine made from this varietal in California! I have to admit, I initially thought this concept a bit gimmicky. The wine business is challenging enough…why complicate things further by making something for which there is no existing market? But then I met winemaker/proprietor Chris Christenson at a trade tasting and it all began to make sense to me. I mean this as a compliment, Chris is a geek, a nerd, who has particular interests and passions and follows them. Chris did not strike me as someone who follows the crowd. The whole concept of Bodkin wines is a clear reflection of Chris’s interests – from Medieval history and literature to making wine his way.
 
 
The 2014 Chardonnay is dubbed The Fearless in honor of the 15th century French ruler, John the Fearless, who was Duke of Burgundy. This goes to show, Chris doesn’t take the easy marketing path by naming his wines after family members or pets. The Fearless is also so named, I think, because this Chardonnay is made slightly atypical compared to most California Chardonnay. First of all, it comes in at 13.4% abv which is low especially for Dry Creek Valley fruit. The wine spent time in French oak, but only a small portion of it new, did not go through malolactic fermentation and sat on its lees with no stirring. Finally, it was bottled unfiltered. All acceptable winemaking choices but not the norm in this part of the world. The resulting wine I find exciting and delicious.The aromatics hint at sweet tangy Meyer lemon and on the palate the zippy citrusy fruit is buoyed by the roundnessimparted from the time in barrel sur-lie. The acidity is spiky and refreshing. The fruit couples with the acidity like the flavors of a Gravenstein apple that is green, has a few stripes of red on its skin but absolutely no hint of yellow!Snappy, succulent and irresistible!
 
 
I paired Bodkin’s 2014 Chardonnay with salmon croquettes. It was a great match since the salmon demanded a wine with body but the lightness of the dish needed acidity. I did a little dance around the kitchen after sampling the first croquette and washing it down with a sip of The Fearless.
 
 
After weeks of anticipation and preparations, Pete has flown to Bordeaux to taste the 2015 vintage out of barreland to, hopefully, find new bottled treasures to import and stock up at the store. As our Bordeaux Scout, Pete has a full agenda and we wish him well on his quest to find those great Bordeaux values you expect to find at TWH. He’s even posted a picture on The Wine House’s Facebook page.Check it out and if you “like” it, perhaps he’ll be encouraged to post some more! – Anya Balistreri
Passetoutgrain is a regional appellation in Burgundy. It covers a large area, nearly 2000 acres, and the wine must be at least 30% Pinot Noir and have a minimum of 15% Gamay. So, how come so few know about or drink Passetoutgrain? For the most part, Passetoutgrain has lost favor, particularly in villages that command high dollars. In these places most producers have replanted Gamay with Pinot Noir. This makes economic sense, but as a result some of the cultural history of Burgundy is lost.Passetoutgrain occupies a useful category as it provides an affordable option for locals to drink and it can be poured at domaines while their age-worthy wines are being cellared. You won’t find anyone mistaking Passetoutgrain for Grand Cru, but if you are looking to rub shoulders with Burgundy without mortgaging your home, Passetoutgrain is a viable way to go.
 
 
All this background is to emphasize my delight when I discovered bottles of Domaine Françoise Lamarche’s 2013 Bourgogne Passetoutgrain in our wood box stacks. I didn’t even know Lamarche made a Passetoutgrain, let alone that TWH was carrying it! Chock it up to working here part-time. At any rate, I couldn’t wait to taste it! It’s a delicious blend of 50/50 Pinot Noir and Gamay that spends some time in neutral barrel. The production is tiny and comes, according to The Queen of Burgundy, Jeanne Marie de Champs, from a vineyard “on the low part of Vosne Romanée”. It’s pretty polished for this type of wine withloads of cranberry, tart cherry and flavorful spice notes. Put in the context of Pinot Noir from anywhere, I’d sayLamarche’s Passetoutgrain will appeal to those who prefer old-world Pinot Noir. It is light and delicate but with enough fruit to keep one’s interest.
 
Burghound’s Allen Meadows wrote this about Lamarche’s 2013 Passetoutgrain:
“The exuberant nose of very fresh red berry fruit aromas displays notes of spice and pepper. There is a surprisingly silky mouth feel for a PTG and while there is a touch of rusticity on the finish the overall impression is unusually refined.”
 
 
The history of Domaine François Lamarche reads like a novel. The family has been making wine for several generations and can trace their roots in the village of Vosne-Romanée back to 1740. Their vineyard holdings are impressive and include the Grand Cru, La Grande Rue,which is sandwiched between La Tâche on one side and La Romanée and Romanée-Conti on the other. Today, Nicole Lamarche is making the wines, having taken over from her father in 2006. With Nicole at the helm, vineyard practices have changed to biodynamic cultivation, new barrel regiments have been employed using less new oak and the winery has been updated to modern standards. Drinking a glass of Lamarche’s Passetoutgrain gives me that chic hi-lo vibe, like wearing a designer gown under a leather motorcycle jacket. It’s not a Cru, but it is incredibly enjoyable nonetheless – I am drinking Burgundy and spent less than $25 – what a deal!
 
 
 
Basketball, basketball, basketball. From NCAA to the Warriors to the last game of my daughter’s CYO league,March has been mostly about Basketball…and Burgundy! My daughter has never played on an organized sports team before this season. It was entirely her choice to play basketball and though not a “sporty” girl, she loved the whole experience! Her team made it to the first round of play-offs. It was a tough battle. She played in the 2nd quarter, caught a rebound, turned to shoot and was fouled.Her first trip to the free throw line and she made it in! Her first score of the season! Her team lost the game, there were tears for a hard fought game, but my daughter….well she ran off the court with the biggest smile imaginable, shouting “Did you see it? Did you see it?” I sure did and it was great! – Anya Balistreri

Chianti, Relationships, And Family Business

Monday, March 7, 2016 11:48 PM

 
Three winemakers from TWH’s Italian portfolio paid us a visit last week. The trio consisted of Giavi’s Marco Cuscito,Ernesto Picollo’s Gianlorenzo Picollo, and Tenuta Pierazzuoli’s Enrico Pierazzuoli. A visit from a producer is a mix of business and pleasure. David drove “the boys” all over the Bay Area, meeting with restaurants and fine wine shops. The trio had also “worked the market” in LA, getting their wines placed on some pretty impressive wine lists. To say the wines were well received is an understatement. Our back stock of their wines have dwindled. David spent several days after they left trying to figure out the quickest way to get more wine imported from Italy!
 
 
I had met Enrico in Italy a few months after I started working at TWH. I had planned the trip in advance of accepting a position at TWH and it happened to coicide with this new relationship between TWH and Pierazzuoli. That was nearly twenty years ago! My boyfriend, now husband, and I drove north from Radda to Montelupo and somehow managed to find our way to Pierazzuoli’s estate tucked in the rolling hills of Montalbano. Enrico proudly showed off his new vineyard plantings, the cellar, and a farmhouse that he said he hoped to renovate to make into an agriturismo. Seeing Enrico in San Francisco reminded me of how hard he has worked to make his dreams come true making wine on his family’s estates. I’m guilty of this too, to think “wouldn’t it be great to have your own winery in Tuscany” without considering all it takes to make that a reality especially if you are not being funded by deep pockets. Enrico is a talker and he talks a lot about the trials and tribulations of running a family business in Italy. When it is quiet at the winery, Enrico is out promoting his wine abroad. He comes to the US every year as he knows it doesn’t just end at making great wine…you need to make sure it gets into the right hands.
 
Enrico Pierazzuoli
 
Enrico’s 2013 Chianti Montalbano is a great example of a simple wine that delivers charm and purity of fruit. In comparison to most Chianti’s out in the market below $15, Enrico’s Chianti Montalbano offers more delicious fruit andclean flavors. I have been tasting quite of few value-priced Chianti’s lately and I am appalled at the shoddy quality and metalic flavors. Some are downright awful and undrinkable. On the other hand, Enrico’s Chianti Montalbano has fresh-picked, bright cherry fruit flavors. It may lack girth but that is not its purpose. It is meant to be that perfect back drop to your favorite bowl of pasta. For me personally, I adore the Chianti Montalbano with a Bolognese sauce. The tangy, red cherry fruit marries well with the tomato sauce and the acidity level is just right not to overwhelm the dish.
 
Marco, David, Gianlorenzo and Enrico
 
Over dinner at the newly opened Fiorella in SF’s Richmond District with Enrico, Gianlorenzo, Marco, David, Tom and I in attendance, stories were shared with much laughter emanating from our table. Those Italian boys are good people and that matters! I left home that evening with a feeling of satisfaction knowing that when I recommend a bottle of 2013 Chianti Montalbano there is a real person who made every effort to make the best wine they could.Tenuta Pierazzuoli is not a label but a family business. I like to think I’m part of that family. So cook up a whole lotta pasta and gravy and invite your family over to share stories, laugh, eat and make sure to serve the 2013 Chianti Montalbano to make it all that much better!– Anya Balistreri

2013 Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles

Monday, February 22, 2016 10:47 PM

Lasting Friendships And
Northern Rhône Syrah
 
I started my wine retail career with little knowledge but with great enthusiasm. I had a passable grasp of California winesthanks to open-minded parents who allowed small tastes at dinner and to summers spent in Sonoma County where I witnessed the changing agricultural landscape; from apple and prune orchards to vineyards. At the store where I worked, one of my colleagues, near in age to me, was well on his way to absorbing all things related to French wines. He enrolled in as many wine courses as he could afford at UC Berkeley Extension. It was a course on the Rhône Valley that sparked the most infectious passionin him. After each class, he’d go over with me what he learned and what was tasted. He even began bringing extra hand-outs for me to take home and read, henceforth began my discovery of Rhône wines.
 
 
 
If it’s red and from Southern Rhône, the wine can be a blend. But, if it’s red and from Northern Rhône, then the wine must be Syrah. This was my first lesson learned. When I came to work for TWH, the selection of Rhône wines was much larger and more comprehensive than at my previous employment. It was time to dive in further.Domaine Belle, which then was known as Domaine Albert Belle, represented value and quality for Northern Rhône Syrah, though it was at that time still a young enterprise. In 1990 after breaking away from the Tain growers’ cooperative, Albert and Philippe Belle, father and son,began domaine-bottling their wine. In a book titled Rhone Renaissance published in 1995, author Remington Norman wrote that Belle was “a domaine to watch”. Nearly three decades later, with Albert retired, Philippe is running the domaine and his son Guillaume is being groomed to join the family business. Over the years, the domaine has expanded its vineyard holdings and upgraded their winery facility. All this was accomplished by hard work and consistently making excellent wine. Robert Parker recently wrote that Belle “has long been one of my favorite estates since I first tasted their wines”. I too have a soft-spot for this domaine, especially the Crozes-HermitageLes Pierrelles.
 
 
Les Pierrelles is often introduced as their “entry-level” wine, but that is a bit misleading. Les Pierrelles uses grapes grown on small, rounded galets (stones) on top of red clay soils. These vineyards are located in the communes of Pont d’Isère and Mercurol. The grapes are de-stemmed, fermented with indigenous yeast and then aged in barrel for 14 months in older barrels of 2-5 years of age. Typically it is juicy, has nice tannin integration and fragrant aromatics.
 
The 2013 Les Pierrelles is really terrific. Pouring it into a glass unleashes aromas of boysenberries, black currant and tangy pomegranate. The first sips are swathed in fruit. Then with aeration, the white pepper and meaty notes emerge. Despite the succulent, sweet flavor of the fruit, the wine lies fresh and lively on the palate. It is a harmonious and pleasurable wine.
 
 
There was a lot of discussion as to whether this wine is more feminine or big-scaled. The 2013 Les Pierrellesdelivers on big flavors, and yet it finishes elegant and gentle on the palate, so it’s both really. As I savored and evaluated what was in my glass (which I mistakenly, but conveniently had over-poured into, and of course Pete took notice of – thanks!?!) I pondered over who might enjoy a wine like this and instantly my old friend who taught me so much about Rhône wines (see above) popped into my head – Mike A. Some of you probably remember him too, as he also worked at TWH when it was located on Bryant Street. I shared my observation with David. Wine is a curious thing as it can conjure up so many feelings and memories and good friends. -Anya Balistreri

2014 Domaine Fondreche Ventoux Blanc

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 9:25 PM

 
Fondrèche Ventoux Blanc
 
 
TWH has been proudly carrying the wines of Fondrècheever since Sébastien Vincenti joined his mother, Nanou Barthelémy, in making wine at the domaine in the mid-1990’s. Sébastien quickly gained recognition for making some of the finest wines from Ventoux, often scoring 90 points or above in many wine journals, notably The Wine Advocate. Early on, Sébastien became interested in the principle of sustainable farming. He farmed organicallyand adopted many of the ideas of biodynamic farming. Not one to conform, he recently withdrew his organic certification since becoming officially certified in 2009. Sébastien cited that in order to stay true to his philosophy of organic farming he can’t be restricted by rigid rules (if you want to learn more about it, click here).
 
 
Only 4% of the wine production of the Ventoux is white; I’d say that’s pretty miniscule. Fortunately, Fondréche makes a blanc using Grenache, Roussanne and a bit of Clairette and Rolle (aka Vermentino). I’ve been eyeing the2014 Ventoux blanc, which arrived at the end of last year, wanting to take it home to see how it performs with a home-cooked meal. This week I bought a bottle because I was in the mood for a fuller white that would maintain minerality and was not Chardonnay (no offense Chardonnay – I remain a fan forever!). My daughter put in a request for oven fried chicken. I was more than happy to oblige because who doesn’t love super crispy skin and I had a hunch that the 2014 Ventoux blanc would pair well with it.
 
 
The 2014 Ventoux blanc has seductive roasted and smoky aromatic notes. It could lure you into thinking it is Chardonnay, as it did my husband, but once you take a sip, it’s evident that it is something else. The flavors are less apple/pear like Chardonnay and more peach skin and under ripe apricots. The saline finish keeps things fresh and vibrant. Though it paired nicely with the chicken, this wine has enough attack to pair with fish dishes. The Ventoux blanc was aged in barrel for six months which lends it a supple texture and adds complexity. The oak treatment is quite deft, leaving the fruit to do most of the talking. I’ve tasted Chateauneuf du Pape blancs with far less character and verve. The 2014 Ventoux blanc is a very strong value in the context of upper-level Rhône whites.
 
 
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; so, yes, I’ll be watching Super Bowl 50 with friends at a party. I don’t have a horse in the race, so I’ll mostly be savoring the snacks. The Bay Area has been all a buzz with the impending game for obvious reasons, so to pretend that I can avoid it seems silly. My taste for football has waned in the last decade or so. I think it has something to do with becoming a mother; I can’t bare to see anyone get hurt. That said, watching an NFL football game brings out the worse in me in no time. Before I know it, I’m yelling “get him”, “smash him”, or worse! The adrenaline starts pumping and my normally pacifist self is ready for a fight. I am a much better, gentler person when I watch baseball. Don’t miss kick off!– Anya Balistreri

A Sonoma Cab For Winter Fare: 2013 “E” From Enkidu

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 8:20 PM


ENKIDU
 
Cold wintry weather, a warm cozy home, a delicious one-pot dish and a full-bodied red to share can add up to a magical night indoors. A good winter tuck-in is my favorite time to reach for a fuller, more loud red than I typically drink. One such red, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon “E” from Enkidu, hit all the right marks for that distinctly new world, unabashedly full-styled wine. Big fruit, big aromatics, and yet still harmonious. If you’re in the mood for something less restrained, thisEnkidu Cabernet Sauvignon is worth checking out.
 
Courtesy of Enkidu FB page
 
In retail, you must plan for the holidays. Keeping stock of the best wine in different categories at various price points is essential, but things can happen unexpectedly. All of a sudden, TWH needed a local Cabernet Sauvignon under $25, preferably from Sonoma or Napa but not necessarily, and, as we like to support the “little guys”, it had to be from a smaller producer. It was hectic around here and there was little time to be out searching and tasting new products. So I did what I often need to do in a pinch, rely on my relationships. I found a Cabernet Sauvignon I thought would fit the bill and asked the wine rep who sells it what they thought of the wine. If you’ve led me in the right direction before, I’m more than willing to listen to your advice. In this case, I was told that the wine I found was fine but what would better suit TWH is the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Enkidu. He explained the2013 Enkidu Cabernet Sauvignon was well received and a hit at many Bay Area restaurants because of its fresh, rounded fruit. It’s yummy right out of the gate, er’ bottle.
 
 
On good faith, I brought in the wine. A sample was soon provided that was shared at a staff tasting. At first, I have to admit, I was hesitant and a bit skeptical; the label read 15.2% abv. That seems high to me, but I also know that numbers, especially in wine, can be deceiving. I was the first to try the wine and it put to rest any concerns I had upon first whiff. Deep berries, cocoa nibs, very expressive aromatics. The flavors on the palate mirror the aromatics adding notes of tangy fruit and seasoned barrel notes. It’s a delightful drink. Next up were the serious critics, my colleagues, and they too thought the Enkidu Cabernet Sauvignon was delightful. Even Pete, our resident Bordeaux Scout, found much merit in this affordable domestic Cabernet Sauvignon. We concluded that for customers who describe themselves as liking big reds, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, the Enkidu would be a great option for them! The price, at under $25, is an added bonus.
 
Courtesy of Enkidu FB page
 
Phil Staehle is the owner/winemaker at Enkidu. Phil cut his teeth at Carmenet Vineyards before starting his own business. The 2013 “E” Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County is sourced from a number of vineyards, mostly from the Sonoma Valley floor. An inclusion of 10% Petite Sirah from the Red Hills gives the wine girth and a touch of flamboyance. Phil writes in his tasting notes that he included a higher percentage of Moon Mountain District fruit which “raised the already very good quality of the “E” to the best yet of this bottling”.
 
I took the remnants of the sample bottle home. Curled up on the couch, watching the end of the Warriors game, I savored the rich, sweet fruit, delighting in the dark cherry, dusty cocoa, and brown sugar notes. Let me tell you, it sure was a pleasant way to end the day! -Anya Balistreri

Tour de l’Isle 2014 Luberon

Monday, January 11, 2016 8:01 PM

 
Love, Love, Love This Luberon
 
 
The 2014 Luberon from Tour de l’Isle is a worthy successor to the equally enjoyable and delicious 2012 that I gushed over in a newsletter here. Fragrant aromas of blackberry and raspberry twirl around a core of spice and herbs. Yes, it smells divine. Not heavy- it rings in at 13.5% alcohol by volume – this Luberon has plenty of fruit impact, announcing its Southern Rhone pedigree at first sip. What is especially lovely about this juicy red are the soft tannins that help glide the flavors to your senses. Watch out though, it can go down quick if you’re not paying attention.
 
Photo Courtesy of Domaine de la Citadelle
 
Tour de l’Isle is Robert Rocchi’s line of wines made at a handful of selected domaines in the Southern Rhone. Robert doesn’t hide the fact that he makes his wines at these various domaines. The domaine names appear on the back label as if to say these wines come from a specific place and are not blends assembled from multiple sources. For the Luberon, Robert uses fruit from Yves Rousset-Rouard, the proprietor of Domaine de la Citadelle.Predominantly Syrah, with additions of Grenache, Mourvedré and Cinsault, as I wrote above, this wine is so juicy and delicious it is hard to limit yourself to just one glass!
 
The Luberon appellation was established in 1988. The region lies east of Avignon and sits south of the Ventoux and above Coteaux d’Aix-En-Provence. I have never visited this part of the Rhone Valley, but by all accounts, it is particularly picturesque.
 
Photo Courtesy of Domaine de la Citadelle
 

The Holidays are a good time to open special bottles. I understand the logic of doing so, but my contrarian nature kept me reaching to open simple, quiet wines like the 2014 Luberon from Tour de l’Isle. When emotions run high and there are lots of goings on, a dependable, built-to-please-many red can be a life-saver. On Christmas Eve, I did opena magnum of Napa Valley red that I had been cellaring for a long time and finally got the nerve up to pop the cork. I enjoyed it, but couldn’t help but be distracted by the table banter, the serving of the meal, etc. to really have enjoyed it. On Christmas Day, it was the 2014 Luberon that called out to me. As I nursed a glass while catching the last frame ofThe Christmas Story marathon, I asked my husband to describe what he liked about this Luberon. His answer was simple but precise “the fruit is there and the tannins are light”. Bring on the distractions! Happy New Year Everyone!– Anya Balistreri

NV Cremant d’Alsace From Domaine Saint-Remy

Tuesday, December 22, 2015 8:37 PM


At TWH, I know it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmaswhen one out of every three purchases includes a bottle of bubbly. Our sparkling wine section has been relocated from the far edge of the sales floor to a beautiful, center stage, display – thanks Chris and Tom! It looks so festive!Each time I walk past the display, Carol of the Bells plays in my head. I am so ready to clink glasses with loved ones!But with so many delicious options, what to choose? For fine quality at an affordable price presented in a visually “giftable” package, my choice is Domaine Saint-Remy’s Crémant d’Alsace.
 
 
Domaine Saint-Remy traces its history as a winery back to 1725. It continues to operate as a family business with Corinne and Philippe Ehrhart at the helm with three generations of family working at the domaine. Seeped in tradition, the Ehrharts took the steps needed to become certified organic in 2010 and in 2012 became certified biodynamic. The Ehrharts are actively involved in the stewardship and preservation of Alsace’s viticultural heritage.
 
 
The Ehrharts visit us in San Francisco on a fairly regular basis. During their last visit in the summer of ’14, Philippe guided TWH staff in a tasting of several of his wines. As I pour over my notes from that day, I can’t help but noticethe many stars and exclamation points after each wine. Philippe told us that they only use barrel for Pinot Noir and use no commercial yeasts. They like to use a slow, gentle pressing for the grapes. The last wine we tasted was theCrémant d’Alsace. They began making it in 1982 and limit production to a couple thousand cases. My notes read“quite sophisticated – fresh & lively, elegant”. My notes made no mention of the grapes, though I do know it is a blanc de blancs using Chardonnay (just like in Champagne). The grapes are grown on granite in the lieu-dit of St. Gregoire, west of Turkheim.
 
 
I’ve been given my orders: my brother, the host, said to bring sparkling wine to serve with appetizers at our Christmas Eve dinner. For a large crowd – there will be at least 22 of us – the Saint-Remy Crémant d’Alsace will work perfectly. The initial creamy tangerine and ripe pear flavors give way to a snappy green apple finish. It is elegant and fresh. There will be stuffed eggs (always the first to go at a party, in my experience), little roasted potatoes with sour cream and caviar and other tasty morsels. ThisCrémant d’Alsace is versatile and complex enough to do special occasion hors d’oeuvres justice. A few bottles will also make their way as gifts to friends and neighbors I know who enjoy a good glass of bubbly. I am happy to help spread the cheer!
 
And a special cheers goes out to all of you that support and patronize our independent, small business. As an employee of The Wine House, I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to make connections and forge relationships with our customers. The Wine House is not my first job in retail, so I say this having years of experience….TWH customers are the very best! Happy Holidays! – Anya Balistreri

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