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

Sunday, January 20, 2019 1:51 PM

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

Les Trois Frères 

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

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

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

- Anya Balistreri

Torre Zambra Pecorino, The Wine That Sealed The Deal

Saturday, October 20, 2018 9:15 PM

Torre Zambra Pecorino, The Wine That Sealed The Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cantine Russo Part 2: The Sparklers!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 11:58 AM

Cantine Russo Part 2: The Sparklers!

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


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


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


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


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

2006 Apremont: Speaking of Purity

Tuesday, March 4, 2008 5:22 PM

2006 Le Cellier du Palais Vin de Savoie Apremont $10.98

This week I’m combining two themes from recent emails: purity/focus and high quality/price ratio. The Meursault from last week was a refreshing wake up call for me. It reinvigorated my relationship with white Burgundy and reminded me of the joys of transparency and minerality in wine. That said, the fact that it is over $50 is a deal breaker for many. I can understand that. I can’t remember the last time I bought myself clothes. If it wasn’t for my wife, I’d be wearing rags … but drinking really nice wine. Since my wine budget has become our wine budget, I’m always looking for what I desire in a glass at more humane prices. And this Apremont does just that.

The mountain wines of the Savoie region are some of the most distinctly interesting yet bafflingly well-priced wines produced today. This Apremont is made from Jacquere, a variety grown mainly in these alpine towns near the Swiss border in France. As far as known Apremont, there is basically one producer who has any sort of American presence due to his large production. You might know it, and that wine is fine, but there are a few boutique minded folk making Apremont in small numbers. Le Cellier du Palais is one (3,750 cases total!), and for circa $10 wine this is the good stuff. I can only assume that the cost of living is much lower out there. If you liked what you heard about the Meursault in terms of precision and clarity and the way it cures the doldrums of overwrought, palate-bruising wines, but balked at the price, then this is the answer. Take a moment and consider the average white wine that you can get for $10. I wouldn’t be surprised if soft drink companies start cornering this part of the market. It wouldn’t be such a stretch since most wines at this price point already have too much sugar and too many ingredients. Lucky for us there are devoted people in different corners of the world sticking to their guns.

If ever a wine were to capture the essence of high altitude exhilaration, this is it. At $10.98 a bottle it’s a wine to keep on hand. To those who prize tautness in wine, who want a wine to refresh, who love the acid/mineral play of Loire whites or Champagne: you will all find pleasure in this wine. In fact Champagne is a good comparison for the fruit character of this wine. Obviously there is no yeast autolysis here, no mousse, and there is certainly no barrel aging, but the elegant presentation of the fruit is similar. Nothing is blatant, it’s all about poise. It’s the quiet member of the conversation who waits until everyone is done and in two sentences makes the most interesting remarks of the evening versus the one who shuns any sort of self-regulating and speaks continuously, seemingly without breathing, it can be too much, but you’re glad they’re there to avoid any awkward silences. Both have a place in a social setting, and some people prefer one or the other. I like a conversation with all sorts of people, but I must say I prefer restraint in wine. – Ben Jordan

Tasting Notes
This wine is a theoretical hybrid between Roussanne and Muscadet tending towards the Loire with Chablis as a distant cousin. It has the floral, Rhone-like quality to the aromatics, while the fruit is pristine and stony and cleaner than almost any wine anywhere. The floral quality is hinting. This is the opposite of the spectrum from Viognier in terms of florality. Where Viognier’s perfume can be loose and overwhelming, this is slight and teasing. Kind of like the way you’re supposed to wear perfume: just enough so that your lover can smell it during an embrace. On the palate, it is deliciously mineral. If you could translate into flavor white stones from a mountain river, that might describe it. The wine is lively, similar in cut to a classic vintage of Muscadet, Sancerre, or Chablis. It is bottled with a slight (slight) touch of its natural CO2, giving it an extra dimension of freshness. Many of my notes on this wine may venture into whimsy, because I am trying to capture the spirit of the experience. While other wines seek strength of palate impression and delineated, sanctioned flavors, this dashes about leaving the cinnamon, butter, and chocolate for the candies. It’s March now, and as we’re anticipating spring, a case of wine like this is needed to wake from the red wine hibernation of winter. As the days get longer, this is perfect way to set the sun and settle into your evening meal.

2005 Mourvedre: La Bolida

Sunday, November 11, 2007 5:52 PM

2005 Mourvedre: La Bolida

Chateau d'Or et des Gueules La Bolida

You know what? I’m liking David Schildknecht’s palate lately. I may eat those words, or simply contradict myself later, but I’ve agreed with a number of the notes he’s given recently. Last week’s Belliviere and this week’s La Bolida. These are examples of cool, non-mainstream wines that happen to be very good, and he hasn’t been afraid to step out and stand behind them. This 90% Mourvedre (10 Syrah) has been in my queue for a while, and I had written much of this when he came out with his notes last week. After such a positive review, it’s now or never. I’ll say it right now, if you want it, get it now. We have very little, and soon we’ll have none. People have a knack of finding anything with 93 points from Parker’s Wine Advocate even if we say nothing. By the way my 6 bottles are safely behind my desk. Don’t even think about coming in while I’m on my honeymoon and asking our new guy (we have a new guy), “Whose are those? Can I buy those?” I will find you when I get back from France. We have a small number of magnums of the 2004, which is very good as well.

Until last week very few people knew about this wine. Our staff loves it, the restaurant NOPA in the neighborhood of Nopa loves it, and besides that we just hand sell it to a few folks looking for a particularly special bottle. I believe we were bringing as much of this into the country as any other state. Actually, we may be one of a few retailers in the country with the 2005 at this point. Now it has points, and it just might become an allocated wine in future vintages. It’s funny how these things happen.


We have been a strong supporter of this estate for a number of years now. John and David (David in particular) recognized the quality the first time they tasted with proprietor Diane Puymorin. More importantly they recognized the inspiration that she applies to her winemaking. These are not your everyday drinkers. These are serious, age-worthy wines, and La Bolida is her top wine made from 90% old vine Mourvedre. Diane’s wines are best compared to the those in Chateauneuf du Pape, Bandol, and the prestigious appellations in the northern Rhone. The biggest difference is the prices are wonderfully low relative to their famous counterparts. Peter, Matt (you all remember Matt, right) and I had the 2004 La Bolida during an epic lunch (eight hours, seven courses) that included the 1990 Montrose, 2003 du Terte, a Chateauneuf du Pape, and a 1998 Gigondas. Guests talked about it as much as any of the other wines, and though the wine was youthful relative to the others, it was many of our ‘wine of the day’. As a side note, none of us were overly full or intoxicated at the end of lunch which is the exact opposite of most of my experiences when I go out to eat. It’s too bad we can’t spend 8 hours every time we have a special meal. Anyway, If you made me choose, I’d say the 2005 has the edge, but the 2004 is so strong, it is a great wine in its own right. I have six bottles and a magnum of that as well. Even though it’s only two vintages, it’s one of the verticals in my cellar I’m most excited about. It’s my Rhone version of Pontet Canet. I want to keep buying it, it used to be under the radar and so far has been very high quality for the price, but if the critics keep scoring it so high, I may not be able to get it anymore! Luckily it’s not experiencing the price inflation that PC is.

I wish I had written about this wine earlier when we had more to go around, but it is such a pet property that I think it’s worth it to offer to all of you who have been so supportive and who have the patience to read these offers which, no matter how hard I try, are always longer than I intend. Like last week, my notes and those from David S. for the 2005 are below. – Ben Jordan

Tasting Notes

Mourvedre, when handled correctly, yields one of the most compelling “dark” wines of the world. As would be expected, this wine is like night. If Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are light and sunny like a summer day, this is black and haunting. The flavors are intense yet they fleet through across your palate. There is a cloak that opens to violets, game, dark spice, and earth. The fruit is rich and black, ripe and assertive. The acidity of the 2005 gives energy to the aromatics, driving and changing your impressions. Though still in its youth the 2004 has settled into itself, and I expect both wines will need a few more years to really start to vibrate. They will both make their 10th birthdays easily.

“Diane de Puymorin purchased (and renamed) this property in 1998 and is generating wines of amazing richness and complexity for a relative pittance. The 2005 Costieres de Nimes La Bolida is an essence of Mourvedre (with 5-10% Syrah depending on the vintage) aged in barrel and (sadly) rendered in tiny quantities. With an intense nose of plum preserves, well-aged game, bay, bitter chocolate, black tea, and smoked meats, it saturates the palate with sweet dark fruits, pungent brown spices, and myriad manifestations of meat (that’s Mourvedre!). Marrow, smoky and bitter black tea and fruit pit inflections all cut the wines’ basic sweetness of fruit and torrefactive richness so that they never overwhelm the palate, and this satin-textured beauty finishes with real verve. 93 Points.” David Schildknecht, Wine Advocate #173

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