2012 Occidental Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Monday, December 22, 2014 7:21 PM

 
 
Occidental is a new project dedicated to Pinot Noir from longstanding, cult status winemaker Steve Kistler and his partner, Mark Bixler. Maybe new isn’t exactly the right word to use here since the project took root awhile back with the acquisition and planting of two vineyards in far western Sonoma County, but it is the first time that Occidental’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir will be available in the market. Bear in mind that Kistler Vineyards wines are sold exclusively through their mailing list and to a few select A-list restaurants. Given this, it is with added excitement and great enthusiasm that we debut the Occidental 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir to TWH customers!
 
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Running a successful winery for over 30 years with a long wait list just to get on to their mailing list to get an allocation of wine just wasn’t enough of a challenge forSteve Kistler and Mark Bixler. It is true that Kistler Vineyards built their reputation on Chardonnay, but many insiders like to talk up their smaller production Pinot Noirs. So it makes perfect sense that these two passionate wine producers would want to take their years of experience and custom build a winery and wine program to their exact specification and apply it to Pinot Noir. The two vineyards that comprise the 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir are Bodega Headlands and Occidental Station. Much of the acreage is planted to Calera clone Pinot Noir, is south-facing and benefits from the Petaluma Gap’s cold, windy climate, being situated only miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
 
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Steve’s approach to winemaking starts with meticulous work in the vineyards and continues with great attention to detail in the winery. The resulting wine is an alluring combination of silky, cherry-laden fruit and a persistent, charged finish. Fruit from both the Occidental Station and Bodega Headlands ended up as single-vineyard bottlings under the Kistler Vineyards label over the past several vintages, selling them only to mailing list customers. Starting with 2011 these two vineyards are now bottled under the Occidental label. The 2011 and 2012 vintage of these wines have been reviewed by Robert Parker and Antonio Galloni, garnering ridiculously high scores and gushing reviews. No reviews of Occidental’s 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, a blend of Occidental Station and Bodega Headlands fruit, have been published yet, but I suspect when they are, they will be no less glowing.

 

 

I can’t deny that my expectations before tasting theOccidental 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir were high- perhaps exceedingly high. For you see, there was a time, not too far in the distant past, that a dear friend of mine had stockpiled an allocation of Kistler wines and was extremely generous when it came to sharing them. As a result, I know the quality of wine that Steve Kistler and Mark Bixler deliver. Along with the entire Wine House crew, I sampled the Occidental 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, trying hard to keep my expectations in check. I found the fruit to be precise and intense, though refined, with layered aromatics and a luxurious palate feel; nothing short of a wine with a background this prestigious should and does deliver!
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Ah, the holidays. Every year I am panic stricken that nothing will get done, but miraculously things work out in the end. Never how I intended or expected, but thankfully, usually even better! This week I attended a school musical featuring my daughter, prepared food for a bake sale and a teacher appreciation luncheon, dug out a trench to keep water from flooding my mother’s back yard, weathered the storm with my husband and daughter who both had school cancelled due to “incremental weather”, and so the week wore on with more excitement including a missed performance of A Christmas Carol because my daughter came down with a raging fever. I sure hope Santa leaves me a special bottle under the tree, say something like Occidental’s 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, this year…I’ve done my best to be more nice than naughty!
 
 

December 2014 Dirty Dozen

Saturday, December 6, 2014 9:04 PM

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11 down, 1 to go. December is here! It’s the most festive season of the year. The time we refer to as “The Holidays.” So during the hustle and bustle that this time of year regularly provides, why not make your wine pantry happy with 12 bottles, all different, all chosen for their versatility, for one incredibly low price? The December Dirty Dozen is just that! Sporting a 30% discount off the retail price, this is as no-brainer as it gets! Happy Holidays!

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2012 Chardonnay Mirth, Corvidae $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder

The team behind Owen Roe makes this stainless steel, tank-fermented Chardonnay sourced mainly from the Yakima Valley in Washington State. It’s a vibrant Chardonnay dripping with snappy green apple fruit. Seductive tropical notes and a good dose of acidity keeps it interesting. Pairing options include veal Picatta, chard frittata or series TV binge-watching.

2013 Verdejo, Rey Santo $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder

From the Rueda region of Spain comes this 100% estate grown Verdejo. Straw yellow in color with succulent tropical and stone fruit flavors, this medium-bodied wine is several quality levels above most similarly priced Spanish whites. Enjoyable on its own pre-dinner, or perfect with a shrimp Louie salad, roast chicken, or butternut risotto.

2011 Albarino, Paco & Lola $14.98 net price, $13.48 reorder

Albarino is characterized by its fleshy, floral fruit and bracing acidity. Often described as a cross between Riesling and Pinot Gris, Albarino’s popularity is booming in the US. And why not? Fleshy, cool and crisp, Albarino is superb with all types of raw fish preparations like sushi and ceviche, and surprisingly delicious with spicy Asian cuisine – Bahn Mi sandwiches, green papaya salad, pan-fried rice noodles with pork belly, yum!

2013 Rosé Les Cimels, Château d’Or et de Gueules $13.99, $11.19 reorder

For that Provençal look and feel, Diane Puymorin blends 40% each Cinsault and old-vine Mourvèdre with equal parts Syrah and Grenache for her Les Cimels Rosé. The name is the local dialect for “bouquet of fruits,” and one sniff will tell you why. Far less expensive than an airline ticket, this can magically transport the taster to the south of France.

2012 Viognier, Grange des Rouquette $11.99, $9.59 reorder

TWH buddies Thierry and Véronique Boudinaud have many vineyards in and around the southern Rhône Valley. For their Pays d’Oc Viognier, they actually blend in 15% Marsanne to give the floral wine additional backbone and complexity. It works fine as the wine is fresh, lively, and rich. This makes for a great tapas wine … maybe some shrimp fritters?

2012 Macon-Villages Les Tilles, Domaine Sainte Barbe $19.99, $16.99 reorder

It doesn’t happen very often, but every now and again a white Burgundy lands in the Dirty Dozen! This one from the small, but vibrant 2012 vintage. The wine is lively and balanced, the fruit and acid propping each other up through a long, satisfying finish. With crab season here, this is a great go-to wine as it will accompany any shellfish very well.

2010 Pinot Noir The Table, Once Wines $13.95 sale price, $13.25 reorder

Finding good California Pinot Noir – let alone really good Pinot Noir like this one – for under $20 is not an easy task. Winemaker Sashi Moorman of Evening Land is credited with making this wine in collaboration with a group of celebrity sommeliers. What impresses us more is the wine itself: copious cherry fruit and a thread of damp earth delivered in a restrained style. This red has enough sophistication and complexity to serve even at the fanciest of holiday fêtes!

2010 Treggiaia, Az. Agr. Pugliano $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder

Transport yourself to the rolling hills of Tuscany with this charming Sangiovese blend made by Fulvio Galgani of Fattoria Bibbiani. Aromas of cherry and Etruscan herbs are supported by food-friendly acidity making it the ideal pairing for assertive pasta sauces like Puttanesca and Arabbiata, or try with a pie from your favorite local pizzeria.

2012 Garnacha/Tempranillo, Paco & Lola, $14.98 net price, $13.48 reorder

A 50/50 blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo, this medium-bodied Spanish red is redolent of tart berries and forest floor aromas. By skipping out of any oak treatment, this red remains light on its feet. Paella is an obvious choice to match here, but so is cured or smoked ham, vegetable stews and any regional American chili.

2012 Saumur, Domaine des Hauts de Sanziers $15.99, $12.79 reorder

Loire Valley Cabernet Franc in its natural form here. No make-up, no smoke, no mirrors. Just that medium-bodied, herbal splendor that doesn’t speak, it screams of a place. It’s a cerebral wine, complex enough to start a conversation.

2013 Syrah, Domaine Saint Antoine $11.49, $9.19 reorder

Coming from just outside the Rhône Valley, our friends at Saint Antoine craft this brawny Syrah. Another terroir-driven wine that speaks of its place of origin, it’s 100% de-stemmed and all tank fermented. Papardelle with rabbit sauce.

2010 Côtes-du-Rhône, Tour de l’Isle $14.99, $11.99 reorder

DD fans may be somewhat familiar with the Tour de l’Isle Côtes-du-Rhône vis à vis the 2009 vintage which was featured earlier this year. The 2010 vintage was yet another gem in the southern Rhône leading us to believe that bad vintages are a thing of the past. This has all the charm, vigor, and finesse we look for. It makes for a great pasta wine.

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2012 Orgo Saperavi: Ancient Winemaking Comes Of Age

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 12:43 PM

The 2012 Orgo Saperavi is a wine I knew existed in theory but had never tasted before until now.Winemaking in The Republic of Georgia dates back 8,000 years. I had read about the wonders of Georgian wine in literary novels. I had heard about how delicious Georgian wines were from my Georgian friends. I have drunk Georgian wines at home supplied by friends who traveled to Russia, as well as purchased locally from food emporiums catering to Russian speakers. I have even been to The Republic of Georgia back when it was part of the Soviet Union and drank wine there.However, these experiences were simply exercises in the exotic. I never tasted a Georgian wine that reaches the level of complexity and vibrancy as the 2012 Orgo Saperavi.

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Orgo, the winery, is located in the Kakheti region in eastern Georgia. Saperavi, the grape, can make full-bodied, long-aging wines. At Orgo, young winemaker Temuri Dakashvili, who is a fourth generation vigneron, ferments the wine in clay amphoras called kveri.Temuri studied winemaking in Germany but is part of a wave of young Georgian winemakers dedicated to preserving the ancient art of kveri winemaking.Temuri sources the fruit from a small 2.5 hectare vineyard he owns with his brother. The vineyard has vines aged from 50-80 years old that are deep rooted in intensely mineral river bank soils. Only native yeasts are used. Maceration with skins, seeds and stems lasts for 14-18 days in clay kveri. Then the heavy sediments and skins are removed and the wine continues to mature for another 6 months. No oak is used and neither is the wine fined or filtered. This description might lead you to think this is some crazy, strange, “natural” wine, but it is not. It is a wine of sophistication that will appeal to both wine geek and to those looking to try something new but not necessarily weird. Lovers of Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – will find much to appreciate and enjoy here.
 
The flavors are tangy with plum and pomegranate flavors and lots of spice notes. It has soft, rounded tannins and a welcoming lightness given its full-bodied expression. An aromatic melange of fruit and spices rev up as the wine opens to air. An interesting fact of the Saperavi grape is that it is a teinturier grape which means its skin and flesh are red. Teinturier grapes are rarely used on their own, but are typically blended with other varietals for color. Saperavi is the exception. If anyone has ever had Georgian red wine before, it should probably be emphasized that the 2012 Orgo Saperavi is a dry wine labeled at 12.5% alcohol by volume.
 
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Along with its famous wines, Georgian hospitality and cuisine are also legendary. I can attest to this fact. Georgian Feasts, or supra, can last hours, often all day, with food overflowing on the table and are officiated by a tamada, or master of ceremonies, to keep the toasts rolling and the spirits high. Back when I visited Tbilisi in the late ’80’s, I was traveling with friends who had family living there. Despite the fact that stores stood empty, when dining at private homes meals were bountiful and complicated. As an honored guest, they would literally take the shirt off their back and give it to me if given the chance. One time I stood admiring a painting on a living room wall. The host noticed me, walked over to the painting, took it off the wall and presented it to me. I had no intention of absconding with their cherished painting nor did I want to insult their generosity, so luckily I managed to convince them that I had no way of transporting such a large picture back home with me. After that incident, I learned not to let my eye rest on anything for too long!
 
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It is nearly time for our greatest American feast, Thanksgiving, when eating and drinking all day long is also the tradition. If you are looking for a fuller red to serve at your table, the 2012 Orgo Saperavi, with its tannins in check, should marry nicely with the baking spices found in many classic Thanksgiving side dishes. Georgian cuisine uses many ingredients that one might find on a typical Thanksgiving table like walnuts, fruit sauces and even turkey, so I don’t think it is a stretch to suggest the 2012 Orgo Saperavi as a Thanksgiving wine. However, if you remain doubtful, do yourself a favor and cook up some lamb and then pop open a bottle of the Orgo. – Anya Balistreri

November 2014 Dirty Dozen

Saturday, November 8, 2014 7:23 PM

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And just like that, it’s November. It’s getting chilly out. It’s getting darker earlier and earlier. No need to fear, we’ve arrived at that time of year where people gather indoors and enjoy one another’s company. The Holidays are around the corner, beginning with the day of thanks. During times like these, it’s a good idea to have a stockpile of versatile wines ready to go, just in case. Case? Yes, case. 12 bottles, all different, for one low price!

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2013 Picpoul de Pinet, le Chevalier de Novato $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder

If you’ve never tried this delightful Languedoc white, boy, are you in for a treat! The name of the grape translated from the French means “stings the lip,” referencing the grape’s natural zippy acidity. On the label an illustration of an oyster hints at the perfect pairing for this wine, though any fresh bivalve will do. A charming aperitif to tickle the appetite!

2011 Moscato Giallo, Castel Sallegg $21.98 net price, $19.78 reorder

The intense, intoxicating aroma of this dry Moscato Giallo has notes of green apple, mango, orange blossom and tuberose. Grown along glacial valleys in the Italian Alps, Alto Adige is positioned just below Austria. Castel Sallegg has deep cellars where they ferment and age their wines 3 stories below ground. Try with Pad Thai or Singapore Noodles.

2010 Catarratto, Tola $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder

Catarratto is one of Sicily’s oldest native grapes. The Tola estate has vineyards that lie between Palermo and Trapani where the famous Scirocco sends in warm winds and light sea breezes. Simple, light with an abundance of green-tinged citrus notes and flavors, this Sicilian white would match well with flaky white-fleshed fish or grilled Octopus.

2013 Rose, Domaine de la Petite Cassagne $11.49, $9.19 reorder

When it comes to pairing wines with the array of plates one typically finds on the Thanksgiving Day table, Rose is among the most versatile. Its crisp profile, coupled with just the right amount of fruit works with just about anything. Its low price makes it a good one to stock up on. The Petite Cassagne Rose has been a favorite for a few consecutive vintages.

2011 Pinot Gris Im Berg, Domaine Ehrhart $19.99, $15.99 reorder

Speaking of Thanksgiving, here’s another autumnal wine. Straight away you can sense the earthy, mushroomy aromas behind the fresh orchard fruit and almond notes. On the palate the wine is sturdy with a bit of viscosity, apple-y fruit and earthiness meet head to head and take you to a long finish. If a ham shows up at the table, this is your wine.

2012 Gavi, Ernesto Picollo $10.99, $8.79 reorder

What’s the wine of choice along the Italian Riviera? That’s a rhetorical question in this context. Gavi is in Piemonte, the grape is Cortese, and the profile is dry, medium bodied with ample fruit, and crisp. There is a detectable mineral presence, both aromatically and on the palate. This will pair well with shellfish, rotisserie chicken, or of course, turkey.

2011 Chianti, Fattoria Petriolo $14.98 net price, $13.48 reorder

A textbook Chianti jam-packed with tangy Sangiovese fruit; a cheerful combination of red cherry and dusty red dirt. The inherent low tannin and high acid nature of Sangiovese makes it ideal for any tomato-based dish or long-simmered meat. Grandma’s short-rib stew or Nonna’s Sunday gravy over spaghetti is all you need to take away autumn’s chill.

2013 Pinot Noir, Underwood $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder

A perennial favorite, Oregon’s Underwood Pinot Noir is nearly unmatched for its quality/price ratio. How do they do it? Drawing from vineyard sites all across Oregon then blending to construct a light/medium-weighted cherry explosion, they seem to get better with each vintage! Elevate your leftover turkey sandwich with a glass the day after.

2007 Primitivo, Feudo di San Nicola $15.98 net price, $14.38 reorder

Primitivo is an Old World (Italian) relative of Zinfandel. It’s robust and earthy, with plummy notes tangling with fresh cracked black pepper. A little time spent in bottle have softened the tannins of this wine, so it’s good to go right now! When pairing, think marbled steak, Pimenton-spiced brisket, or rack of lamb –Va Bene!

2012 Mountainside Shiraz, The Winery of Good Hope $13.49, $10.79 reorder

Frenchman and TWH pal Edouard Labeye makes the wines for English ex-pat Alex Dale at his Winery of Good Hope. The concept is to keep costs down so the wines are great values to consumers; so no new barrel, no fancy packaging. Take this Shiraz out for a spin. Spicy red fruit, layers of brambly berries, and cracked black pepper; try it with ostrich.

2013 Malbec, Alberto Furque $14.99, $11.99 reorder

Malbec has taken Argentina by storm. Once upon a time, it was used as a blending grape in Bordeaux (where it still plays a minor role), but there is something about the terroir in Argentina that works for this variety. Here, Carolina Furque uses steel and concrete tank to make this plummy, med/full bodied number. A marinated skirt steak works very well here.

2011 Cotes-du-Rhone la Boissiere, Domaine Boudinaud $13.49, $10.79 reorder

What better way to round out this month’s DD than with a tasty Cotes-du-Rhone. Pound for pound, the red wines from this region continue to represent some of the wine world’s best deals. The 2011 la Boissiere is medium bodied, complex, and balanced. It’s a great all-purpose red, and would suit pizzas, calzones, pasta dishes, and burgers just fine.

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Arlaux Champagne? Yes, Yes, Yes!

Friday, November 7, 2014 10:07 PM

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TWH staff had occasion to celebrate this week, so we did with a bottle of Arlaux’s Brut Rosé. Arlaux’s Brut Rosé is produced from the family’s 9 hectare vineyardwhich faces east/southeast along hillside slopes not far from Champagne’s epicenter, Reims. Produced independently since 1826, Arlaux makes only 5,000 cases a year, a minuscule amount for a Champagne house. That’s probably why Arlaux is not a household name, except for here at The Wine House.

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With over 10 years importing Arlaux under our belt, we’ve become pretty familiar withArlaux’s signature style which showcases Champagne’s lesser known, but most widely planted variety, Pinot Meunier.Arlaux’s Brut Rosé is over 50% Pinot Meunier, therefore it has a fuller, fruitier expression than the more delicate Pinot Noir- or Chardonnay-based Rosés. A beautiful shade of salmon pink with edges of amber, the Arlaux Rosé strike a lovely balance between amplitude and delicacy.Yeasty aromas mingle with red raspberry fruit and give way to a creamy long finish.

 

 

The vine age at Arlaux ranges from 20-80 years old and are 100% classified Premier Cru. Their farming practices are “lutte raisonneé” which for Arlaux means that they are not using any pesticides in combination with careful vineyard management. Their stewardship of the land looks to a sustainable model.

 

 

One of our first customers this morning stopped by specifically to check on our Champagne selection. He knew thatthis is the time of year Champagne inventory at The Wine House expands. And then it dawned on me, holy cow it’s here, the time most closely associated with drinking Champagne – the holidays. Ready or not!

 

 

As I wrote above, The Wine House staff had occasion to celebrate this week. A local team we all like to root for in a sport we all enjoy following won an important series, so after spending the day analyzing the victory (& working), at the end of the business day, we selected something worthy with which to clink our glasses: Arlaux’s Brut Rosé. It had been some time since I last drank this Rosé. I always considered Arlaux’s Rosé to be the perfect bathtub wine; languishing in scented bath water, soaking away the stress and sipping something special and bubbly. I could sure use such a soak and a sip. A Friday Halloween sent droves of trick-or-treaters past my front door. Explain to me how it can be so exhausting handing out candy to little children? At any rate, next time you find yourself in need of something special and bubbly, whether it be for a soak in the tub, marking a win, or any type of holiday festivity, check out Arlaux’s Brut Rosé. It is a wise choice! – Anya Balistreri

2011 Ca’Lojera Ravel & 2007 Pierazzuoli Millarium

Friday, November 7, 2014 12:47 AM

Two Sweet Exclusives

TWH does not shy away from sweet wines. Many have marveled at our comprehensive Sauternes selection. I don’t have the scientific data to back this up, but I surmise that TWH has one of the largest selections of Sauternes in the country. But as much as we love Sauternes, why stop there? Two of our direct-imports from Italy, Ca’ Lojera andTenute Pierazzuoli, make superb passito-style sweet wines that are currently in stock at our store. In fact outside of Italy, we are the only place you can purchase these wines! (And I have the scientific data on that fact.) Yes, they are that special and we find them to be value-driven options when selecting something a little sweet for a special dinner or to serve as an aperitif when you want to shake things up.

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Ca’ Lojera’s passito-style wine is called Ravel. Ca’ Lojera settled on this name as a reference to the composer Ravel whose most famous composition, Boléro, can evoke warm, passionate feelings in the listener. Likewise Ca’ Lojera’s Ravel is a moving expression of their local Turbiana grape. A small amount of Malvasia is added in for aromatic lift and perfume, but it is the Turbiana that plays center stage. The grapes are hand-harvested, dried on wooden trays for an extended period of time and then pressed. The wine is then aged in barrel before bottling. The 2011 Ravel is light on its feet with a fresh finish, not at all unctuous. An exotic coconut flavor dominates with cheerful lemon undertones. A glowy citrus yellow color lights up the glass and the lush flavors settle nicely on the palate. The coconut flavors give a nice toasted note without being overly extracted or heavy-handed. Frankly, this wine is better suited for aged cheeses than for matching with a dessert. This wine is perfectly capable of being a stand-alone dessert, no sugary caloric confections needed. In an email providing us with some background notes on their latest releases, Ca’ Lojera’s Ambra Tiroboschi signed off with this charming sentiment, “this is briefly the history of our wines, that derive from our projects and reflect our dreams.”

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Pierazzuoli’s 2007 Millarium Vin Santo is a laborious endeavor. First the grapes are hand picked from vines that were deliberately left with only two bunches. The grapes were then hung up to dry in the rafters of their well-ventilated facility. The grapes dry for six months. The must is then fermented and aged incaratelli, very small barrels, for four years, during which time the wine is kept in an area directly under the roof in order to maximize temperature swings during the year. After bottling, the wine rests for another year before commercial release. Amazing isn’t it when you think about what it takes to make a wine like this especially given the usual turn-it-over fast, send-it-out-to-market-quick mentality? Making real Vin Santo is a commitment.Vin Santo, or “holy wine”, has many origin stories. The one proprietor Enrico Pierazzuoli shared with us is that the name is derived from the historical practice of pressing the wine during Easter. Actually what I found most interesting was Enrico’s description of his Vin Santo as being “an ideal wine for company and conversation, as an aperitif or at the end of a meal, it goes very well with sheep cheese served with green tomato marmalade or chestnut honey, or with liver pâté.” Please note that no mention is made of any type of cake, torte or sweet. Save that stuff for the espresso! The2007 Millarium Vin Santo is dark amber in color with a lightly honeyed note, lots of freshness, a slight herbal component that gives a minty spark and finishes with decadent burnt sugar and lots of roasted hazelnuts. Beautifully balanced without any over-compensating sweetness. A perceived dryness permeates the palate giving the wine a youthful sheen. – Anya Balistreri

October 2014 Dirty Dozen

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 8:46 PM

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All over the northern hemisphere, the annual grape harvest is well under way. That must mean it’s October. Baseball’s post-season is underway and Halloween is right around the corner. What better to have than a case of wine, all different, from six different countries, put together for a 30% discount? The October Dirty Dozen offers all that and more! From crisp whites, a fine Rosé, and Burgundy, try a Dirty Dozen today!Be a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

 

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2012 Tejo White, Portal da Aguia $10.48 net price, $9.43 reorder

Composed of mostly Fernão Pires, a native Portugese variety prized for its aromatic complexity, this lively white is packed with citrus and lemon scents. Devoid of oak, the stone fruit flavors dominate from nectarine to yellow plum. Start out with a glass as you put the finishing touches on dinner, or pair it with lighter fare like main-dish salads or steamed clams.

2012 Torrontes, Ecologica $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder

Torrontes is no longer an unknown variety and is now recognized as Argentina’s beloved and distinct aromatic white. Pungent on the nose, but fresh and crisp on the palate, the Ecologica is produced from organic fruit grown in the Famatina Valley. Serve with empanadas or other savory-filled pastries like cabbage piroshki or South Indian dosas.

2013 Moscato di Pavia, Centorri $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder

The market for Moscato has ignited in the last couple years. Many of these semi-sweet sparklers can be sub-par, but not this one! Produced by one of Italy’s foremost winemakers, this affordable Moscato is like popping a fresh grape into your mouth. Low in alcohol, it’s a perfect aperitif to awaken your palate. Then again, leftover Halloween candy anyone?

2013 Chenin Blanc Bush Wine, The Winery Of Good Hope $13.49, $10.79 reorder

Down in South Africa’s Stellenbosch, Alex Dale’s sturdy old bush vines produce impeccable fruit year in and year out. The ocean exposure is important, keeping things cool at night in order for the Chenin Blanc to produce proper acidity levels. The result is a versatile Chenin Blanc showing lively fruit and a flinty mineral quality. Drink it with crab cakes.

2013 Rosé, Grange des Rouquette $10.79, $8.63 reorder

Made from 100% Syrah, Thierry Boudinaud’s Rosé has a distinct fruity richness. It’s made using the saignée method, that is bleeding off some of the juice from the must of the Syrah. This intensifies the Syrah and gives the winemaker the pale juice to make Rosé. An easy-to-like Rosé, this will pair with everything from a tuna salad to a garden burger.

2013 Les Tours, Domaine La Hitaire $9.99, $7.99 reorder

From Gascogne in southwestern France, Yves Grassa’s two sons, Rémy and Armin, run Domaine La Hitaire. Their Les Tours bottling consists of 65% Ugni Blanc, 30% Colombard, and 5% Gros Manseng, typical white grapes of the region. The result is a delightful crisp white with just a kiss of fruit. The handy screwcap makes it a cinch to take on a picnic.

2011 Monastrell, Atope $11.98 net price, $11.68 reorder

Dark and inky with flavors of black cherry and blackberries, the underlying notes of dried brush give this Spanish red a full-flavored appeal. You might not want to go it alone with this and opt instead to pair it with grilled meats, long-simmering stews or earthy grains. But be careful, it’s a real tooth-stainer!

2011 Rosso, Torre Quarto $12.98 net price, $10.78 reorder

This blend of Uva di Troia, Sangiovese and Primitivo comes from the bottom of Italy’s boot. This Puglian red is another rugged, full-flavored red. Compact and dense with well-structured tannins, it would pair magnificently with olive-studded dishes, roasts, or other big flavored dishes like pasta with basil pesto or spicy sausages over polenta.

2009 Vaucluse Rouge, Cuvée Jean-Paul $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder

Simple pleasures here, as this is a classic Southern Rhône country wine. Grenache and Syrah are the mainstays, displaying red cherry fruit, subtle spice, and soft tannins. Enjoy it with comfort one-dish baked favorites like lasagna, mac-n-cheese, or Moussaka. Need some more ideas? Ok then, how about Enchiladas, flatbread pizza, or a cheesesteak?

2011 Ventoux Fayard, Domaine de Fondrèche $17.99, $14.39 reorder

The youthful Sébastien Vincenti worked under famed Rhône producer André Brunel for many years. He now farms his 38 hectares organically and bio-dynamically. For his Fayard, he blends 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 20% Mourvèdre. Medium in body, it’s chock-full of berry-like fruit framed by earthy minerals. A great wine to serve with a rack of lamb.

2012 Saumur, Domaine des Hauts de Sanziers $15.99, $12.79 reorder

For lovers of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, the Hauts de Sanziers Saumur is a textbook example of the variety and terroir. It’s bright and lively, has that signature Cab Franc herbal profile balanced with red fruit and fine tannins. A great Old World red for a great price. You might want to pair this with a salumi plate or with a dry-rubbed pork roast.

2011 Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune Clos Marc, Domaine Sylvain Langoureau $19.99, $15.99 reorder

Red Burgundy in The Dirty Dozen! Sylvain Langoureau’s Clos Marc is a rustic, vin du table style Bourgogne that offers up lovely Strawberry and underbrush aromas with a light-medium body propped up by fresh acidity. This is the kind of wine served by the glass at bistros up and down the Côte d’Or. Trot this out with a sausage pizza with Kalamata olives.

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2012 Tour De L’Isle Luberon

Monday, September 22, 2014 7:13 PM

Blackberry patch aromas dominate in the 2012 Luberon from Tour de l’Isle. It is as if you got stuck deep in a thicket where tangy berry scents mingle with dropped leaves, moist earth and dried herb fragrances. By simply sticking your nose into a glass of the 2012 Luberon, you will get that aromatic berry patch sensation without the threat of scratches, bee stings or poison oak. TWH’s partnership with Tour de l’Isle is a relatively new and fateful one. David had been searching for a new producer to import from Southern Rhone for some time but nothing seemed to fit. By chance, David was introduced to Tour de l’Isle’s 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape, first tasting and then buying the wine for the store. Some time later David met with Robert Rocchi who created Tour de l’Isle. After tasting through Robert’s portfolio and hearing his story, David knew that with Tour de l’Isle there was great potential for offering our customers wine with regional typicity, varietal correctness and deep value. Welcome Tour de l’Isle to The Wine House!

 
Robert Rocchi has worked in many capacities within the wine industry – from production, to distribution, to marketing and sales, to retail. In the early ’80s Robert opened his first wine store just east of Avignon. There he gained an enviable reputation for his tasting skills and was encouraged by several vignerons to start making wine himself. AtTour de l’Isle, Robert Rocchi makes wine at a few select wineries, each in its own appellation, with whom he partners to create wine typical of the region and styled to his palate preference. Though each of his wines accurately represent their respective appellation, there exists a common thread that weaves through each bottling which reflects Robert’s wine philosophy. He clearly prefers wines that emphasize texture and approachability. I will repeat myself yet again and assert that Robert Rocchi is not afraid to make wines that taste good. Too often with wine, power and structure are valued over impact and tastiness. Here I am reminded of T-Vine’s original winemaker and owner, Greg Brown, who would scoff at the topic of wine ageability, explaining that he made his wines to enjoy right now!
 

luberon

A Southern Rhone red is pure comfort to my palate. The warm, sweet berry fruit, Provençal spice notes and accessible structure can be irresistible. A fuller, more complex Southern Rhone like this 2012 Luberon is a wise choice for the table as we continue to enjoy late Summer’s bounty but are nonetheless heading towards cooler temperatures and thus cooking more stovetop. In much need of comfort, I’ll be bringing home a bottle of the 2012 Luberon for tonight’s dinner: grilled sausage from a local butcher and veggies, a last-of-the-garden tomato salad and tarragon aioli to dip everything into are on the menu. Baseball, a light-hearted film and a glass of Luberon should round out the evening perfectly.  Be well!

The September 2014 Dirty Dozen

Saturday, September 6, 2014 10:29 PM

On we go, into the ‘ber months! Kids are back in school, the French are back from their holidays, and here in San Francisco, it’s time for our summer! For the occasion, we’ve sourced some special wines to make our September a memorable one. Six reds, one crisp Rosé, and five whites, all chosen for their versatility, are screaming values on their own. Pack them all in a box and knock the price down 35%? Magic. The September Dirty Dozen!

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2012 Falanghina Nina, Torre Quarto $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder

Give it a chill, just not too much, otherwise the lovely melon fruit and fragrant aromas (look for that slight hint of pine) will be muted. Falanghina, an ancient Italian grape, is grown in the south – Puglia in this instance. Yellow-gold in color, this lush white has a round texture that complements seafood, fresh salads and cold entrées.

2012 Côtes de Gascogne Cuvée Jean-Paul, Boutinot $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder

From southwest France, this dependable refrigerator door white’s beauty – a classic blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc – lies in its simplicity. Notes of lemon and citrus zest move into tangy grapefruit on the palate, leaving a refreshing, lingering lightness. Nothing complicated, but it’s oh so nice ice cold out of the fridge on a warm late summer’s eve.

2012 Pedro Ximenez PX, Cucao $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder

Pedro Ximenez is a varietal known mainly for its role in Spain’s sweet sherries, but this dry example is grown in the northern-most wine region of Chile – the Elqui Valley. Sunny weather ripens the fruit while the high altitude ensures freshness. A delightful blend of acidity and concentrated fruit; try with miso-dressed soba noodles or coconut shrimp.

2013 Ventoux Rosé l’Instant, Domaine Fondrèche $15.99, $12.79 reorder

This wine gets you at ‘hello.” Just look at that color! As pale as pale Rosé gets, winemaker Sébastien Vincenti blends 50% Cinsault with 30% Syrah and 20% Grenache and the wine is light, lean, crisp, and delicious. It’s a versatile little Rosé, textbook southern French style. Got a hankering for Salmon Étoufée? If you do, try it with this.

2012 Grenache Blanc/Rolle/Roussanne, Domaine de la Petite Cassagne $12.89, $10.31 reorder

In 1998, Diane Puymorin purchased this domaine and re-named it Château d’Or et de Gueules. TWH regulars know all about her and those wines, but Diane keeps it real and pays homage to the history of her property with this bottling. Here she blends three classic white Rhône varietals. It’s crisp, clean, and fleshy. Pair it with a seared tuna sandwich.

2012 Gewurztraminer Herrenweg, Domaine Ehrhart $21.99, $17.59 reorder

Gewurztraminer is known for its profound bouquet reminiscent of lychee nuts and rose petals. The Ehrharts’ single-vineyard, Herrenweg is a tad off-dry, and is rich and expressive, both aromatically and on the palate. Not for sipping, this one needs food. Especially spicy food. You must try it with a spicy curry dish, or spicy Cajun red beans and rice.

2010 Tempranillo Dauco, Bodegas Martúe $13.98 net price, $12.58 reorder

Hailing from central Spain, this friendly Tempranillo has silky smooth tannins and rich cherry fruit. Outside Rioja, Tempranillo can show many faces, but here it shines as a versatile, charming red, reminding drinkers what makes Tempranillo just so darn delicious! Surely Paella works but so does Pollo con Arroz, Plov, or Tadig with kebabs.

2012 Malbec, Ecologica $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder

Argentian Malbec is unquestionably a favorite for those looking for value and quality in an everyday wine. Ecologica sources only organic fruit and is Fair Trade Certified. Medium-bodied with welcoming notes of green herbs, red plum and cassis fruit, the acids and tannins hold up well to heavily-seasoned grilled meats or a quesadilla with fresh Pico de Gallo.

2010 Dão, Proeza $11.98 net price, $9.88 reorder

Looking for a full-bodied red that goes easy on the pocket book? Look no further than this voluptuous Portuguese red from Proeza. Loaded with big flavors courtesy of Touriga Nacional and Tinto Roriz, grapes traditionally made into Port, this dry red is grippy and broad-scaled. A lot of wine for the money! Hearty, rib-sticking meals would work best.

2010 Touraine Rouge, Domaine des Corbillières $14.99, $11.99 reorder

We’ve been working with Dominique and Véronique Barbou for two decades, their wines can magically transport us to the land of France’s most majestic chateaux. This blend of Pinot Noir, Côt (Malbec), and Cabernet Franc is marked by juicy fruit with an herbal twist. Drink it on its own or with anything you would want to pair with a cheerful red.

2011 Barco Reale di Carmignano, Le Farnete $14.59, $11.67 reorder

In the rolling hills just west of Firenze is the commune of Carmignano. Long before the days of the ‘Super Tuscan’, Cabernet Sauvignon was allowed to grow here, only to be blended with the native Tuscan Sangiovese. It’s a zippy little red table wine with another layer of complexity. Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil is all you need with this one.

2009 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Tour de l’Isle $14.59, $11.67 reorder

Proprietor of Tour de l’Isle, Robert Rocchi acts as a negociant in the southern Rhône Valley who advises a handful of growers on improtant aspects of winemaking. The results in bottle are not only delicious, they are reflective of their places of origin. Or as Anya likes to say, “He’s not afraid to make wine that tastes good.” Try this with a grilled steak.

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2013 Matthiasson Linda Vista Chardonnay

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 9:29 PM

Last Sunday morning, I was awakened by an earthquake that caused serious damage to Napa and Vallejo, about 20 miles from where I live. After being certain that my daughter, husband, dog, and house were safe, I grabbed my phone to fire up Twitter.It didn’t take long for me to understand that many of the small, independent producers I follow (and I don’t mean just on Twitter, but as a wine drinker and wine buyer), were going to be hit hard.Matthiasson wines always have a presence on our shelves. Crafted with passion and with an adventurous spirit, it’s easy to understand why people quickly attach themselves to Matthiasson wines. The 105 year old farmhouse Steve and Jill Matthiasson share with their sons suffered structural damage … they lost a chimney. The house had been lovingly brought back to life by the couple and the surrounding land has been an important source for their winery and organic farm business. Their farmhouse, gotten to by way of a long driveway, is tucked in among tract homes along the Valley floor in what is known as the Oak Knoll District. What looks like their back yard, but is an adjacent property, is the Linda Vista Vineyard. On it grows Chardonnay, and in 2011 Steve leased the vineyard, allowing him to farm it as he sees fit thereby making a stand-out wine.

 

The 2013 Linda Vista Chardonnay from Matthiasson is styled for freshness and crispness. Only a small portion of the wine went through malolactic fermentation, something they opted out of doing in past vintages, but felt it needed to temper the sharp acidity of 2013. Aged and fermented in neutral barrel,this is an A-typical California Chardonnay in that it pushes forth vivacious citrus notes that don’t get muddled with too much oak, lees-stirring or other winemaking techniques that are implemented to bolster a full-bodied final wine. Instead, the 2013 Linda Vista Chardonnay is more comfortable as a pairing for oysters or light poultry dishes. I may cringe after I write this, but I do believe it is a fair analogy to make – think more Premier Cru Chablis and less big buttery Cali Chardonnay. At under 13% abv, Matthiasson’s 2013 Linda Vista Chardonnay is a welcome change.

 

My husband, a PE teacher, and my daughter, a 5th grader (yikes!) are sick with a cold … welcome back to school! Rather than heading north as is tradition, or visiting with friends at backyard cookouts, we’ll be staying home. No, no violins here needed because I am thinking ahead, making sure I return home today with supplies from The Wine House, including the dynamite 2013 Linda Vista Chardonnay. The plan is to serve it with some juicy prawns that will be grilled and doused with home-grown herb vinaigrette. If I can’t go to the party, the party will have to come to me. Here is to those that labor and to those that enjoy time with friends and family when not laboring! – Anya Balistreri

Ouled Thaleb: Morocco’s Finest

Monday, August 25, 2014 5:50 PM

The Wine House has been stocking the wines of Ouled Thaleb for nearly two years!Our reputation for carrying a vast selection of French wine may cause some to overlook the global wine selection at the The Wine House but we have wines from Central Europe, the Southern Hemisphere and beyond. Thebeyond part takes us to Ouled Thaleb, one of Morocco’s leading wineries established in 1923. The winery is located twenty miles northeast of Casablanca in the Zenata appellation. The Zenata AOG is prized for its coastal climate, sandy shale and gravelly sand soils, and high elevation. The history of wine production in Morocco is said to go back 4,000 years and has appeared and disappeared over the centuries. In the late 1880’s French winegrowers came to Morocco seeking new areas to plant while back home phylloxera was creating havoc and devastation. In 1923 Morocco became a protectorate of France and the cultivation of vines grew to over 130,000 acres. When France left Morocco in 1956 many of the vineyards turned fallow. However in the 1990’s French winemakers returned to Morocco at the urging of its king to lease vineyards and replant.I hope this very brief history lesson is not a total bore, but I find it helps to better understand why there is such a prevalence of traditional French varietals planted in Morocco.

 

Two years ago, a young Frenchman came into our store and asked whether we’d be interested in tasting wine from Morocco. I jumped at the chance to have a new wine experience. I remember tasting Moroccan wine years and years ago at a restaurant in the Richmond district called Mamounia’s – nothing impressive, but fine and drinkable. I’m sure in those days not much made it out of Morocco and even today, it’s extremely limited.Fortunately for us, this young Frenchman has a strong passion for wine and believes deeply in the potential for great wines from this area of the world. He poured me the entire portfolio from Ouled Thaleb. I was immediately captivated, not only because it was exotic and new, but because the wine tasted so good. The Moroccan White Blend is, you guessed it, a blend of the native varietal Faranah and Clairette. It is a bright, stainless steel fermented, citrus-laden, zippy white. Lots of clean flavors that encourage casual sipping or perhaps a seafood match-up. The Moroccan Red Blend (also a blend!) is comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. A juicy, medium-bodied red that sees a short stay in oak barrel, flavors of red plum, ripe cherry dominate with hints of spice. The two Moroccan Blends are perfect everyday wines offering high value to price ratio. The Ouled Thaleb Syrah steps it up a notch, offering a dark smokey fruit profile, a dead ringer for a Northern Rhone Crozes-Hermitage.  Speaking of Crozes-Hermitage, famed vigneron Alain Graillot visited Ouled Thaleb some time back and was so impressed with their Syrah, he collaborated with them, creating his own “barrel-selected” bottling. I like to turn people on to Ouled Thaleb Syrah who express both interest in Syrah and enjoy the more finesse-ful side of the varietal.

 

So where did summer vacation go? School started up this week and it caught me totally unprepared. Granted my focus has been elsewhere, but I just wish I had a few more weeks to laze around in that unscheduled nirvana of summer vacation. The calendar is back up and filling in quickly with after school activities and all the other stuff surrounding elementary school. My consolation is that we’re entering prime tomato season!My own tomato plants had a surge of ripening a few weeks back and have tapered off due to the cooler nights we’ve had in the Bay Area of late. Thankfully the good folks at the Farmer’s Market travel far with their heat-soaked sweet tomatoes! I might take a cue from my own weekend write-up and put together a Moroccan-spiced eggplant tangine to serve with one or all three of the Ouled Thaleb wines offered here at The Wine House! Be adventurous with your tastebuds. Anya Balistreri

 

Picollo’s Gavi di Gavi “Rovereto”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 7:32 PM

The 2012 Gavi di Gavi “Rovereto” from Ernesto Picollo captures the essence of seaside freshness as it combines lime-scented, citrusy fruit with sparkling acidity.There is no argument that Ernesto Picollo’s Gavi DOCG is a true workhorse and bargain, but when you want a little more there there, the “Rovereto” is the way to go. Picollo’s winery and most of their vineyards are in the hamlet of Rovereto within Gavi in southeastern Piedmont. Often referred to as the crown jewel of Piedmontese whites, Gavi, in actuality, has more in common with its southern neighbor’s wines, Liguria. In fact, Rovereto’s climate is influenced by its proximity to the Ligurian sea. The maritime breezes make their way up the hills to Rovereto, preserving there a more Mediterranean climate. Most of Gavi has a mix of both sand and clay soils, however in Rovereto soils tend to be more clay, allowing for reserves of water for deep roots during dry summer months. Also, Rovereto gets full southern exposure, which helps with ripening.

Gavi’s grape, Cortese, can trace its history way, way back. There is written documentation from 1659 naming it as one of the vines planted on an estate in Piedmont. It was prized for its resistance to grape disease and for producing quality grapes with high yields. Ideally Cortese needs a dry climate, meager soils and good sun exposure, all things that Rovereto provides.

 

So it follows that the lush texture of Picollo’s “Rovereto” with its golden hue and zippy minerality is especially complimentary to seafood and in particular to shellfish. All stainless steel tank-fermented, there is plenty of concentration propelled by a suave palate feel, making Picollo’s “Rovereto” dangerously easy to finish off well before any food shows up at the table. But remember, this is Italian wine and Italians insist on eating food while drinking wine, so do as they say and make sure to have a few nibbles on hand when you pull the cork. Enough with the lecture!

 

This really happened. At a staff tasting we tried a white wine that struck us as interesting but maybe didn’t quite wow us, so we decided to give it another chance and placed it in the fridge overnight to see if it would evolve in the bottle. At the end of the following day, after the shop was closed up and before heading out, Chris presented Pete and me with a glass of white wine. I took a whiff and was positively baffled at how dramatically the sample white we tried the day before had changed.  Gone were the earthy, adhesive aromas and in its place was pulpy citrus, charged acidity and a fragrant herbal nose. It was fabulous! Could a wine really change that much overnight? Well the glass in my hand certainly proved it could, that is until Pete caught sight of my confusion and also noticed the vast difference between the wine we tasted the day before and the one we were tasting now. Putting two and two together, Pete quickly announced that what we were drinking was not the funky sample but most likely the 2012 Gavi di Gavi “Rovereto” from Ernesto Picollo. This made perfect sense to me however the only way Chris could have gotten a hold of a perfectly chilled bottle of “Rovereto” was to have opened a bottle that I had placed hours before in the fridge to take home for my Friday Night Fish Fry! Flip flopping from bouts of laughter to shooting “you son of a gun” glances over at Chris for ruining my planned dinner wine, I had to admit it was a comical way to end the work week and that great wine will always and immediately make itself known.

 

The last couple of weeks have been tough. Without going into details, let me just say that my family has faced some rough challenges – but we’re a tight bunch and I am thankful for that. In between handling family matters, I have taken some time out to bask in summertime’s fun.  An annual trip to the Sonoma County Fair with my daughter and husband was a highlight. Who can resist newborn piglets, greasy fair food, or a free cone of vanilla ice cream from the Clover stand? Oh yeah, and I helped rescue a drowning woman out of the Russian River. All of this makes me more mindful of how blessed I am for the family I have and how it’s best to do now and not later. There is a bag of calamari in my freezer that went in when my husband passed on going to a long ago planned, all-guys retreat to stay home with me while things were still up in the air. The calamari is going to be fried up soon and with it a bottle of 2012 Gavi “Rovereto” will be served. I’ll just have to make sure to hide the bottle away from Chris! – Anya Balistreri

Pierazzuoli’s 2011 Barco Reale di Carmignano

Monday, July 28, 2014 7:09 PM

Le Farnete’s 2011 Barco Reale di Carmignano combines Sangiovese’s lush red cherry fruit and fresh acidity with Cabernet Sauvignon’s structure and backbone.Not some newfangled blend, Carmignano, a Tuscan region just northwest of Florence, has championed this combination of grapes since the 18th Century! A Super Tuscan before there were Super Tuscans. The Barco Reale di Carmignano will see less time in barrel and comes to market sooner than its big brother, Carmignano. I find the inclusion of Cabernet Sauvignon extremely complimentary to Sangiovese and in no way detracting from Sangiovese’s intrinsic juiciness and vibrancy. July’s heat has found me drinking plenty of Rose, that’s for sure, but when I am in need of a red wine that has softer tannins yet still has body, the 2011 Barco Reale di Carmignano from Le Farnete fits the bill beautifully.

 

Le Farnete is one of two Tuscan estatesowned by the Pierazzuoli family. Enrico is the owner and is assisted by his wife, brother and two sisters. Along with the wines, the Pierazzuoli’s produce olive oil and vegetable preserves and also run an agriturism business. It’s a true family affair for the Pierazzuoli’s. This close connection to each other and to the land is what fuels their passion for making the best wine possible. When Enrico took over from his father in 1990, he began an extensive replanting of the vineyards, choosing low-yielding clones which were densely planted. Improvements also occurred on the production side including building a state-of-the-art winery. All this investment has paid off as their wines continue to impress and provide a high quality to price ratio. I’m not sure exactly how The Wine House was introduced to Enrico Pierazzuoli but I am sure it was his confidence and vision that attracted us to his wines. Believing in Enrico and his vision for the future, The Wine House began importing his wines. That was nearly two decades ago!

 

Sangiovese in summertime. Sounds good and tastes good!Checking out our blog, I noticed that the last two times I wrote about wine from Pierazzuoli it was in summer. I can tell you honestly that stuffed zucchini and Barco Reale di Carmignano are dynamite together! My garden is exploding with zukes and I have a couple of recipes using them that need a red but one where the tannins are in check, has good acidity and rich fruit. Ba-da-bing…2011 Barco Reale di Carmignano from Le Farnete!

 

 

Last weekend I rushed from work for a quick trip up to the River to meet with childhood friends for a “Russian River Rats” reunion. Many of them I hadn’t seen for a very long time – too long! Lots of laughter and reminiscing ensued and continued well into the night. Funny how we all fell into our roles behaving like we did all those years ago. I brought along a bottle of the Barco Reale di Carmignano. It was a big hit, especially with the lamb shashlik that my brother grilled over a Weber while three of us held flashlights allowing him to see in the darkened backyard. Summer fun! – Anya Balistreri

Lacuna 2011: A Red Blend for Summer

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 7:31 PM

It is often not enough for wine to be good, I like a wine to have a good story behind it too. Believe me when I say there is a lot of wine out there! I do my best to taste through as much of it as I physically can so that I can make an informed decision as to what to buy for the store, but I have my limits. And besides, when I look over my tasting notes and think back on the wines that made the biggest impression on me, it usually comes down to the people behind the wine. It also follows that the passionate souls that I gravitate towards are rooted in a sense of place. Sometimes that place is a physical one – a vineyard, an estate, a region – and sometimes, the place is more of a sensibility. I know, that last part is rather vague, but work with me here. Lacuna is not a winery nor a vineyard, but what is in the bottle of their proprietary red speaks volumes about character and quality. They source sought-after, highly regarded vineyards, choosing only the best each vintage, and because of this all you will read on the label is “Red Wine, California”. That is only the beginning of the story.

 

The first vintage to hit the shelves was the 2007 Lacuna. The Wine House was the first to promote the 2007 Lacuna with unabashed enthusiasm. That enthusiasm continues with the 2011 Lacuna. Lacuna began as a partnership between three veteran wine guys who worked primarily on the distribution side of the wine business. They wanted to take their wine point of view to market by making their own wine. A stroke of genius lead them to ask rising-star winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. fame to make their first vintage and then subsequently invited him to join the team. Twain-Peterson has made every vintage of Lacuna. Because of their collective connections within the wine business, the Lacuna team is able to source impeccable fruit but in return for getting access to these famed vineyards at favorable prices, they are asked not to reveal the vineyard names.

 

 

For the 2011 Lacuna, 85% of the blend is Syrah. Various vineyards sites for Syrah were used, including one planted primarily to the Alban clone. The fruit from this vineyard is responsible for lending the distinct bacon and smoke component to the wine. Some of the other Syrah components were co-fermented with Viognier, just like they do in Cote Rotie, to offer an aromatic counterpoint to the broodier Alban-clone site. In addition to Syrah, there are small smatterings of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan, all sourced from a vineyard originally planted before the turn of the century. Pretty cool stuff! In the end, the various pieces to the puzzle fit together seamlessly to produce a wine of great depth, vigor and a dark edge. Meaty, sanguine and black berry notes dominate. This is not a jump in your lap, lick your face kinda Syrah, but one with deeply satisfying, savory fruit fortified by an ample, forceful structure.

 

A vacation spent at my family’s dacha among the Redwoods along the glorious Russian River last week gave me opportunity to drink some tasty wine. Coincidently, one of the Lacuna guys is also a fan of this area, having grown up there and is now caretaker of the family home. We like to compare notes about where to go and what to do. Inevitably though, I tell him that other than a day spent on the beach, my motivation to go anywhere lately is low! Watching for ospreys and river otters or my daughter’s hilarious attempts at landing on a floaty in the water is entertainment enough. As is relishing a glass of something yummy with dinner in the evening. Take the 2011 Lacuna and a grilled piece of aged beef and you have yourself a feast. The Lacuna’s structure begs for something substantial to pair with it. Other than animal protein, I would suggest serving a hearty grain like a barley risotto with mushrooms. That smokey, bacon quality of the 2011 Lacuna makes you want to sink your teeth into something; it is a sophisticated choice for serving with bold flavors off the grill. Get out and play! – Anya Balistreri

Ca’ Lojera: Lugana’s Best

Monday, June 23, 2014 7:45 PM

The Lugana DOC from Ca’ Lojera completes a trifecta of impressive TWH-direct whites from Italy that includes Montenidoli’s Vernaccia Tradizionale and Picollo’s Gavi. All three wines offer exceptional quality for the money and show authentic expression of their respective grape variety and place. They also happen to be family-run wineries. To my mind, those are key ingredients for enjoying a wine all the more! Ca’ Lojera’s 2012 Lugana is the fourth vintage to land in our warehouse. It has not lost any of its original luster to my palate.  Each vintage brings with it subtle variation, but always amazing depth, lushness, and a hallmark note of salinity. It is never boring and never palate fatiguing. A second glass, a second bottle, a second case is always in (and on) order!

 

Franco and Ambra Tiraboschi began growing grapes in the ’80s. Winemaker Franco comes from a family of farmers who did not grow grapes. Franco was met with skepticism when he embarked on grape growing but he persevered only to be thrown into wine production in the early ’90s when some of his contracts were not honored and he was left with grapes that had no where to go. It was a time when wine from Lugana was relatively unknown and had not yet regained the reputation and notoriety it has today. Once again the Tiraboschi’s persevered and now are known to make one of the finest Lugana in the region. Fortunately, David immediately recognized the exceptional quality of Ca’ Lojera during a 3-day wine seminar and tasting in New York City where he sampled through hundreds of wines and met hundreds of producers some years back.

 

The grape variety that goes into Lugana is known as Turbiana. It has been genetically linked to Verdicchio though at one time it was referred to as Trebbiano di Lugana. Ca’ Lojera’s Turbiana grows on mineral-rich, deep clay soils very near Lake Garda’s shore giving their wine that touch of salinity and savoriness. Flavors of melon, juicy tangerine, with intermittent notes of spearmint and herb, carrying forth in a fleshy texture that swirls around on your palate. All stainless steel tank fermented, the plushness of the wine is derived entirely from the grape and soil alone. Being situated on Lake Garda, the winery’s pairing suggestions circle around freshwater fish as well as ocean bound ones. I would include crustaceans like shrimp, crab or even lobster. There is enough stuffing to the wine to even pair it up with pork and chicken. It really has a lot of versatility. My family normally cooks nightly, but we’ve been barraged by work and end-of-school goings on, so have more than once relied on take-out in the past couple weeks. At San Anselmo’s Comforts, their ever popular, lightly-dressed Chinese chicken salad makes for a particularly tasty partner with Ca’ Lojera’s 2012 Lugana. 

 

I wait until the absolute last minute to write my weekend newsletter, usually writing it on a Saturday during business hours. This time I am bucking tradition (writing it on Wednesday) because I will be celebrating the epic union of Konstantin and Alla Zaharoff at their 60th Wedding Anniversary – yep, my parents! Oh jeez, I am already tearing up just writing down the words – I better get it out of my system! In the next few days I will be hustling, getting the party organized. Luckily, this is a family affair, so I won’t be going it alone. This much is true: no one will leave the party hungry or thirsty. As for the speech I am expected to give along with my brothers and sister? I’m going to try to keep it short or risk turning into a crying, messy puddle of mush. Growing up I was convinced that if my parents ever divorced it would be over whether or not the chicken was properly cooked. Raw, overdone, I guess it never mattered since if the only thing that they ever really argued over was the chicken’s doneness then their marriage was surely destined to remain intact. Our family is so blessed to be able to celebrate this long, happy marriage all together.

Pazdravlyaem s’ brilliantovoi svadboi!
 I love you Mama and Papa!

– Anya Balistreri 
Domaine Stephane Magnien was formally introduced to TWH customers with the 2010 vintage. Although Magnien’s ’09s hit our shelves, high demand for the vintage caused them to disappear well before we had the chance to properly introduce this small domaine to all of you. But now the ’11s are here and well, it’s time to give these wines the attention they deserve! The 2011 Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru Cuvee “Aux Petites Noix” (phew, that’s a mouth full!), is a sensational wine that captures both the specificity of its appellation and the charm of the vintage. The “Petites Noix” is a blend of two parcels, “Les Gruenchers” and “Clos Baulet”. The parcels are relatively close in proximity, share similar soil structures and are thought to express the Gevrey-Chambertin side of Morey Saint Denis. The wine has notable structure with plenty of fleshy fruit.



 

 

Domaine Stephane Magnien has only 4.5 hectares of vines which, even for Burgundy, is considered small. Even so, Stephane, who took over the domaine from his father in ’08, is the fourth generation vigneron to live and work at the family home and cellars that date back to the late 1700’s. Young Stephane embraces traditional winemaking methods and is guided by the principle of preserving the integrity of the wine. Translation: natural practices in the vineyards, manual harvest, not forcing extraction, aging in barrel but not much of it new. What stands out for me when I taste Stephane’s wines, is the perky, fresh elegant red berry fruit and its seamless structure. The charming nature of the ’11 vintage is evident in this “Petites Noix” and so is the ripe, but not over-ripe, fruit. 2011 is thought to be an early drinking vintage. This means you can open this bottle now or over the next few years (decanting it a bit wouldn’t hurt either) without guilt. Burgundy can be a minefield when trying to determine optimal drinking windows, true, however the 2011 Morey Saint Denis “Petites Noix” from Stephane Magnien is showing its stuff now, so go ahead and imbibe!

 

Yields for ’10, ’11 and ’12 in Burgundy were all down. I read somewhere that if you combined the totals for all three vintages against normal years, an entire harvest was lost! Thirst for Burgundy remains high and the big, collectable names are allocated in dribs and drabs. There is good news and that is this, TWH makes every effort to continue to discover new energetic domaines from Burgundy that offer quality, value and pleasure – Domaine Stephane Magnien is such a producer. The 2011 “Petites Noix” is a direct import, therefore it will discount 15% when purchased by the case or as part of one. I’d like to think I can buy full cases of Burgundy to have on hand and if I did, I certainly would buy the 2011 “Petites Noix”. If buying a bottle or two is more your style, include it with some of our every-day wine gems to take advantage of the 15% savings. 

 

At home, the school year is wrapping up and summer activities are being lined up. Personally, I am a great advocate for unstructured, unplanned stretches of time, preferably spent outside somewhere, even the backyard. With summer hours approaching, a midweek meal might include a fancier bottle of red (I am crossing my fingers!) like the 2011 Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru Cuvee “Aux Petites Noix”. I can visualize a medium-rare leg of lamb with a garden-grown vegetable tian accompanied by the juicy red cherry fruit, sweet tannins and elegant finish of the 2011 “Petites Noix”. Now that sounds like a summer vacation to me! Anya Balistreri

Boudinaud’s 2012 Syrah Grenache

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 5:47 PM

 

“We tried the 2012 Syrah Grenache; WOW is it great!”. That’s how I was greeted when I came into work on Thursday. I hadn’t yet tried the 2012 Syrah Grenache from Boudinaud myself, but I had taken home a bottle over the weekend. I was planning on opening it soon anyway, but with such a resounding endorsement from the crew, I was compelled to open it that evening. When it comes to trying out new vintages of our value-priced direct imports, I don’t like being the odd man out. Deeply relieved, I too found the wine to be delicious. Relieved? Yes, relieved because Boudinaud’s Syrah Grenache is my ‘house red’ as it were. When in doubt or not sure what meal plans lay ahead, I know I can’t go wrong with this versatile, charming red.

 

 



I wouldn’t say the 2012 Syrah Grenache is a departure from past vintages, but it clearly has more stuffing to it and a distinctly Rhone-like herby thread that weaves through the nose and palate. David remembered that the 2012 Syrah Grenache is for the first time 100% de-stemmed and is what probably gives the wine the added dimension. The fruit is redolent of black and red berries, fresh and bright but not tanky; it is more akin to a Cotes du Rhone than the average Southern French fighting varietal. Boudinaud’s winery is located in Fournès, a small village between Avignon and Nîmes, and very near the famous Pont Gard. Boudinaud’s vineyards are both within the Cotes du Rhone appellation and just next to it. The 2012 Syrah Grenache is more than fairly priced with lots of personality and a sense of place. 

 

Next month, along with my siblings, I will be throwing a 60th Wedding Anniversary party for my parents. It will be a daytime garden affair. The menu will include a whole spit-roasted pig and salmon. So far, the 2012 Syrah Grenache is my front runner for the red selection. I think it will go equally well with the fish and animal. And because this is a daytime event, I don’t think a heavy powerful red is appropriate or necessary.  I like the freshness and liveliness of the tank-fermented Boudinaud Syrah Grenache. It will be a far more pleasant drink and food companion than something with stronger tannins and oak. Plus, as I tried to convey above, this red is not lacking in the fruit department; it has plenty of WOW factor. Anya Balistreri

2011 Vernaccia Tradizionale from Montenidoli

Saturday, May 24, 2014 7:41 PM

The other day The New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov wrote an article titled Summer’s Winners: 20 Wines for $20Montenidoli’s 2011 Vernaccia Tradizionale was selected to that list, being described as having “depth, presence and texture.” At TWH, we often tell people that Montenidoli’s Vernaccia Tradizionale is a white wine that drinks more like a red wine. Because it is vinified in a traditional way -hence the name- by leaving the skins on for an extended time during fermentation, what emerges is a full-flavored, structured wine. Elisabetta Fagiuoli, legendary winemaker at Montenidoli, suggests pairing her Tradizionale with olive oil-based dishes like those found in cuisines along the Mediterranean. It is this attribute that makes the Tradizionale an especially perfect choice for Memorial Day weekend cook-outs. Kebabs, salmon, fava beans, spring garlic and onions, asparagus, really anything fresh and seasonal, grilled and then drizzled in green-gold olive oil will prove an epic feast when served along with the 2011 Vernaccia Tradizionale

 

TWH team with Elisabetta at Piccino in Dogpatch, February 2012.

TWH has been importing the wines of Montenidoli for a long time now. Elisabetta Fagiuoli was introduced to us by a mutual friend and colleague from Burgundy.Though Montenidoli’s reputation for making superior wines was well known to us, it was only after meeting Elisabetta in person that we fully understood the magnificence of Montenidoli’s wines. We have made many attempts to relay our enthusiasm for Montenidoli to our customers but some times it takes an outside source to drive the point home. Thanks due to a wonderful series called Ask a Winemaker, you can witness first hand how knowing this winemaker gives deeper meaning to her wines. If you have two minutes to spare, please watch this short video of Elisabetta describing the different styles of Vernaccia she makes. And if you enjoyed that, also watch this.

Tendu: New from Matthiasson

Monday, May 12, 2014 11:56 PM

Judging from the liter-sized bottle and crown cap closure, you might think Tendu wines are from Austria or Germany. That’s what many folks assume when they first see bottles of Tendu. The stated alcohol on the labels, 12.5% for the red and 12.2% for the white, does not help to clear up this confusion of provenance and neither does tasting the wine. Tendu wines are part of a whole new breed of California wine that are gaining popularity and acceptance – fresh, young wines that are light and easy, made from unlikely varietals.

 

Winemaker Steve Matthiasson, in collaboration with his wine broker, set out to make a wine that would be affordable, versatile, and minimally handled in production. Sourcing the fruit for this project was key. To that end, grapes were harvested from a single vineyard in the Dunnigan Hills in Yolo County. The 2013 Tendu White is 100% Vermentino, a Mediterranean varietal that is famously grown on the island of Sardinia and in southern France where it is known as Rolle. The grapes for the 2013 Tendu were harvested in early August with the intention of getting vibrant fruit that has plenty of acidity still intact. The 2013 Tendu White is strikingly zippy and racy with very clean, steely flavors. Not sharp, but taunt – not your typical big fruit, high impact California wine. It has that lightweight freshness reminiscent of crisp southern French whites. Apart from enjoying this as an aperitif, I can imagine serving this with raw oysters or fish poke. For the 2013 Tendu Red, a blend of Montepulciano, Barbera, and Aglianico were used. These three Italian varietals can be rugged and robust, but what you taste is a light-bodied, juicy, slurpy red that is not at all jammy. The red fruit flavors lean towards cranberry and sour cherry, and the slight earthiness of the grapes appears on the finish. You could easily give it a quick chill on a sweltering hot day to better enjoy its low alcohol freshness. 

 

I recently re-tasted the 2013 Tendu White and Tendu Red at an event that featured only less-known grape varietals. In northern California roughly 93% of vineyard acreage is planted to eight grape varieties. The remaining 7% are comprised of less known grape varieties, like the ones in the Tendu wines. The tasting showcased twenty-two wineries who champion these lesser-known varietals. Not surprisingly, The Wine House consistently stocks many of these alternative grape varietals from California. In our opinion, these wines can offer tasty, value-driven options that intrigue and delight.

 

So what is this mother doing for Mother’s Day? Putting on Mother’s Day brunch for the lovely moms in my life, obviously, though this is looking to change for I went to bed last night with a banging headache and a chill. Am I really going to be sick for Mother’s Day? At present, I am trying to will myself well and failing. I hate to miss a good party, especially one I am supposed to be throwing. Now go call your Mother! Anya Balistreri 

Newly Arrived: 2013 Rose From Petite Cassagne

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 12:04 AM

Why TWH moved to a new location at 829 26th Street at the edge of the historic Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco might be a question many of you have entertained and one that can be answered many ways. One answer is that we needed more space to warehouse our imported wines. As Pete likes to explain and I will paraphrase here, we want new vintages of French Rose as soon as possible and not in the middle of summer. Typically Rose is bottled in March, so given the normal timeframe of shipping logistics, we can expect new vintages of Rose to arrive in SF at the earliest by mid/late April. Too often at the old spot, we’d have to wait so that we can make room for a new container. But here at the new spot, voila, it has arrived fresh, fresh, fresh in April with room to spare in the warehouse. I wasted no time, buying a bottle of the 2013 Rose from Domaine de la Petite Cassagne to enjoy at Easter, and will now attempt to make a strong argument as to why you should want this Rose over any other.

 

The 2013 Rose from Domaine de la Petite Cassagne has a baby pink hue so pretty, so translucent, you can’t help but gravitate to the bottle. Made from direct press juice, mainly Cinsault, this Rose has that delicate, subtle appearance that signifies elegance, subtlety, and freshness. The aromas are pervasive but not heady. The strawberry scents are like those that greet you when you pass by a vendor at the Farmers market selling just picked berries; it is a vivid, memory-inducing aroma. On the palate the strawberry theme continues but stops short of excessive fruitiness by the perfectly matched acidity and dryness level. It is not an out of the ordinary Rose, unlike anything you’ve ever tried before, but it is precisely what you want from a $11.49 bottle of Rose from Southern France. Now let’s imagine for a moment that you had the good fortune of summering along the Mediterranean coast and were at an outdoor bistro ordering a glass of Rose. If the restaurant served you a glass of the 2013 Rose from Domaine de la Petite Cassagne, first you would think to yourself why don’t I drink more Rose and second you would begin to wonder whether you could purchase anything like it back in the States. The good news is yes you can and we have it here at TWH!

 

At Easter, my elder brother, who resides in Sonoma County and grows wine grapes as a hobby, asked me to try a Rose that a friend had made. He asked me to honestly critique the wine so that he could report back to his friend. After staying up the night before until 4:30 in the morning-having gone to midnight mass and then breaking the lenten fast afterwards – I wasn’t exactly in the mood for playing the role of the wine expert, but I tasted it anyway and found it to be sound. My biggest objection to it was the heat on the finish and its sense of heaviness on the palate. I could see that my brother was not clear by what I meant, so the next day as we continued our Easter celebration at my other brother’s house for a day-long bbq feast, I poured a glass of the 2013 Rose from Domaine de la Petite Cassagne and instructed my brother to try it. “You see how light and fresh it is?” I told him. And I went on to say, “we sell it at the store for $11.49 per bottle, and even less by the case!” Now he understood, so much so he asked me to set a few bottles aside for him.

 

 

One of the highlights at the bbq feast for me was a slow-cooked, fall-apart-tender pork butt that was served on sweet Hawaiian rolls with sliced cucumbers, pineapple, red onion and cilantro with Siracha and Hoisin sauce. It was an amazingly delicous pairing with the Petite Cassagne Rose. Truly. Red wine would have been too heavy and a white wine wouldn’t have had enough fruity oomph, proving to me once again how versatile and complimentary Rose is with foods that impart heat or spiciness.

 



Winemaker Diane de Puymorin has perfected making Rose that combines real value with sophistication (actually this is true for all her wines). The 2013 Rose from Petite Cassagne is simply hard to beat especially when you factor in the price. At $11.49 per bottle ($9.77 when ordered by the case), you can afford to incorporate a taste of the Mediterranean life into your daily diet. Anya Balistreri

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