April 2023 Newsletter

There are serious wines, with starched collars. They want to talk about tannins and geology and twelve generations of winemaking. There are playful wines that are transparent and fresh and speak to the aromas of flowers and the sensation of sunlight. Then there are wines like this one from Chateau de la Selve that only ask where the party is at! This is Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah grown in biodynamically tended vineyards in Ardeche, where winemakers are allowed to dream and play more than in the Rhone or even Languedoc, the Petite Selve lets us in on the secret when it calls itself “a UFO in the Rhone region” that “cultivates the paradoxes.” It is “light without being thin” and “complex without being complicated.” We honestly can’t remember the last time we tasted a wine so purely joyful. It smells like the scooped out filling of a Fruits of the Forest pie, like blackberries and blueberries and strawberries and raspberries all mashed together in a pan with a tablespoon of orange juice and a sprig of tarragon. It's a picnic on a hot day and the kids are playing in the fountain. It’s an antique pepper shaker in the shape of a strawberry at grandma’s house. On the palate this wine is a pie eating contest in a savory herb garden, but for all its juicy, delicious palate staining heft, the Petite Selve is anything but heavy. There’s enough acidity in here to keep all these red and blue berries and oranges and fresh flowers aloft all the way through the finish; a rich, warm, herb-crusted finish. “Delicious on its own, or to pair with grilled foods?”


Le Clos Galerne Anjou Balade En Chenin 2020 $24

There is an elemental quality to the Chenin Blanc of Anjou, a solidity to it, as if it might maintain its shape without the help of a glass, as if you might chew on it a bit as you drink it. If you read a wine review that talks about a wine with ‘depth’ or ‘dimension,’ this is the quality they reference. Le Clos Galerne’s Balade en Chenin, brought to life by Cedric & Myrtille Bourez, has this three dimensional quality. Their domaine is on a curiously mineral rich form of basalt called spilite in the very heart of Anjou’s wine country, the village of Chaume, with additional parcels in Savennieres. This is where Chenin Blanc breaks the volume knob off. Even the aroma seems to take shape, with layer after layer of pear, cherry, Cara Cara orange, camomile, honeysuckle, rose water, passionfruit, beeswax, lime leaf, and salt. The palate is full bodied, with a resonant core of orange surrounded by honeycomb, lemon curd, candied pineapple and lime zest. That textural quality referenced above is difficult to fully capture in words, but there is a seamless intensity to it, like the scenes with the obelisk in 2001 Space Odyssey, or Bach’s Cello Suite No.1. There’s plenty of acidity in here, but there’s so much going on that it never feels out of place. This is a wine that belongs to rich foods with strong flavors. Crab from the sea, pork from the land or duck from the air.


La Tannerie Cite de Carcassonne Rouge $14

It is likely that Carcassonne will always be best known for its giant, perfectly preserved medieval castle that dominates the passage from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and serves as a touchstone for Languedoc’s Cathar history. That works for us, because if word got out about the wine made here, we wouldn’t be able to find values like this brilliant blend of organically farmed Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache from La Tannerie. It turns out that grapes made famous by Bordeaux do just fine with a little more sunshine. This is a sturdy, earthy, rustic red with a straightforward goal: to make your next hearty lentil stew sing. La Tannerie’s nose begins with earth, freshly tilled and clay streaked. There are notes of tomato leaf, of blackcurrant and prune, and dried black cherries too. On the palate, this wine offers a sturdy foundation of velvety tannins, a deep well of dried black fruit accented with a touch of tamarind, and a drop of orange oil. Resonant earthy notes weave in and out of a bowl of dried fruits on the finish. We recommend this wine for every occasion you need a reliable, tasty red without much fuss. Burgers, stews, and Blazer’s games.


Celine & Nicholas Hirsch Chenas 2021 $20

Celine and Nicholas Hirsch came to Beaujolais to make wine on what they call a human scale. They own a  small domaine centered in the village of Chenas, vineyards planted mostly with old vines on the granite gravel soils of the region. They make wine gently, with short macerations on the skins and gentle press cycles, to yield an even-tempered wine that showcases site and soil. They do not use the whole cluster fermentation and carbonic maceration process that brands so much of Beaujolais; as Celine puts it, “carbonic maceration makes greedy and fruity wines.” 

For all their talk of subtlety, all their dedication to balance and grace over intensity, they were still able to pack this Chenas with a thundercloud of red fruit, roiling with intense aromas of strawberry, cherry and boysenberry, along with a dash of petrichor, of pepper and violet. Without the sheer volume of warmer climate wines, this Gamay wins us over with persistence. Silky textured, seamless and fresh, with juicy red berries right off the stem, a touch of strawberry sorbet, and the constant suggestion of granitic soil, toes poking out from behind every curtain. This is a wine that shows the power of restraint.

Azienda Agricola Sandro Fay Valtellina Rosso Tei 2021 $22

Among the many lengths humans go to eat and drink, there are some outliers that make you wonder. Who was the first person to look at a lobster and think “I wonder if I can eat that?” Who was the first person who took a bite out of a clump of dirt and bit into a truffle? And who was the first person who gazed at the sandy, rocky patches of ground along the sheer walls of Valtellina and thought that was a reasonable place to put a vineyard? We are indebted to all these people, and some of their descendants, who continue to farm those steep vineyards in Italy’s most northerly Nebbiolo outpost,  locally called Chiavennesca. Sandro Fay inherited his family’s vineyard in 1971, and spent the decade turning it into an Azienda Agricola of a modest size that has now passed to his children Marco and Elena. The elevation and nutrient-poor soils here ensure the grapes only just get ripe, and the result is a decidedly bright spectrum of aromas in their entry tier Rosso. Fresh raspberries, Rainier cherries, pluots, and peaches waft in on an alpine breeze with a bouquet of fresh, aromatic flowers. On the palate this wine offers sprightly red berries, cara cara orange, a touch of anise, sandy soil, and dusty tannins. A collection of dry herbs sprouts on the finish, but the fruit lingers gently too. This is classic, low alcohol Nebbiolo from a beautiful and often-overlooked corner of Italy. 


Coralie & Damien Delecheneau Touraine Rose Tournage Riant 2021 $21

Coralie and Damien Delecheneau make a little bit of everything. With vineyards in the heart of Touraine, they have access to a head-spinning array of grape varieties planted in their sandstone scented vineyards. Their La Grange Tiphaine estate is a benchmark estate in the Loire, and their precise, curious approach to winemaking shows in the finely balanced, distinct, and dependably complex wines they make. The Tournage Riant rose cuvee shows off all this complexity with panache. A rare blend of Cot (Malbec) with Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Grolleau, this rose offers up a nose both bright and detailed, like a stained glass window on a sunny day. Grapefruit, tangerine, strawberry, Rainier cherry, and elderberry fruits come in incandescent waves, each dusted with a bit of fine white pepper. On the palate, this rose has well measured weight and a silky texture with a strong citrus accent. Crunchy red berries and the classic Loire note of white pepper follow along before a distinct earthy note, a waft of sandstone soil that builds on the finish. If anyone doubts that rose wine can match red for sheer depth and complexity, this blend from the Loire is a must try. For best results, don’t over-chill.


Roterfaden & Rosswag Vineyard Project Lemberger Terraces 2019 $17

The view is iconic of German vineyards: a wide amphitheater faces straight south to steeply planted slopes overlooking a charming little village and the curve of a river. But this isn’t in the Mosel, this is far to the south, in the forested part of Wurttemberg where Sylvaner is the white grape of choice, and Lemberger is the red. That tiny village is Rosswag, and that south-facing vineyard where tractors fear to tread is home to two producers, the local cooperative and Roterfaden, who have combined their efforts with Vom Boden Imports to produce this utterly charming wine, a shining beacon of the untapped potential in a generally ignored corner of the wine world. Lemberger is the German name for what we know better as Blaufrankisch, a central European favorite that offers spice and crunchy berry fruits in equal measure. The Roterfaden-Rosswag is no exception, offering up a stunning nose of boysenberry gelee, apricot, violets, and granite. The palate is fresh, fine-grained, and crisp with juicy acidity. Orange peel, strawberry, cranberry, and red cherry fruits are on full blast with that ever-present sense of granitic minerality. This is the sort of red that you can keep in the fridge, that needs no accompaniment but would go with nearly anything that isn’t too spicy, but we think the best way to drink this would be a pleasant, simple dish with sauerkraut, mustard, and bratwurst.


Cameron Giovanni 2022 $19

John Paul and his Cameron winery are pillars of the Willamette Valley, making fabulous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that sets a standard for the region. But John also has a soft spot for Pinot Blanc, and with a stylistic nod towards the rich, zesty, and gregarious wines of Italy’s Friuli region, he makes some of the most exciting Pinot Blanc available, from anywhere. This is the first 2022 wine we’ve featured from Oregon, and it’s shaping up to be a pleasantly surprising vintage. The early frost and historically wet spring gave way to a steady, cool summer and a vintage-saving patch of heat in October that helped the grapes cross the finish line. The benefit of all that rain we had to endure comes through in the form of extra intensity and energy in this wine. On the nose, there are classic Pinot Blanc notes of pear, yellow peach, acacia blossom, freshly grated ginger and nutmeg. The palate is decidedly full bodied and packs a flavor punch of pears and peaches that fall off the tree into your hands, oranges, crushed granite and a homemade lemon curd pie, complete with crust. This is a loud wine, but in the end it’s a perfectly balanced wine that leaves the palate refreshed and ready for all the crab you got to go with it.


Domaine des 3 Cellier Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge Alchimie 2019 $35 

The Cellier family, brothers Ludovic, Julien and Benoit inherit a winemaking lineage that dates back to 1650, and in 2007, started the Domaine des 3 Cellier as a new winery, rooted in a long family tradition but not bounded by it. Using old vines in the heart of Chateauneuf du Pape, the brothers Cellier combine old and new techniques in the winery - notably including a small proportion of whole cluster fermentation - to achieve balance and an unusual sharpness to the aromas and flavors. The Alchemie cuvee is a blend of seven varieties; Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise, Terret noir, Vaccarese, and Clairette rose. Aromas include wild blueberry, raspberry, cherry, stewed strawberry, fig and date all dusted with sun-baked soil tones. The wine is lush on the palate but lively, with a ribbon of acidity that showcases flavors of raspberry, black cherry cordial, cinnamon and nutmeg, fig jam, and orange oil. On the finish, a pleasant tannic backbone emerges with herbs, blackberry, and gentle earth. This is a wine of contrasts, bold yet balanced, delicious by itself but perfectly suited to hearty dishes cooked in large cookware. If you get enough to age, the Alchemie will develop nicely over the next eight to ten years.


Gonzales Wine Co. Cicchini Family Vineyard Malbec 2019 $19 

Have you ever been confused by a wine? Have you ever been so surprised by a wine that it calls into question everything you thought you knew? This precocious offer from Christina Gonzales did that to us, and we couldn’t be happier to share. Christina first found Malbec in 2001 while backpacking across South America. It was in Argentina, next to a large steak, and she left struck by the link between the wine and the food and the community that produced them. After nine years working harvests in California and Oregon, she founded Gonzales Wine Co, and started making her own sort of Malbec. Lighter and brighter and more food friendly, with low alcohol, complex aromas and refreshing textures. This offering from the Cicchini Family Vineyard just east of San Francisco Bay is maybe the most extreme example of this style we’ve ever seen, and it’s frankly amazing. Christina describes it as a ‘white wine in every way except that it’s red’. It absolutely jumps out of its skin with fresh tropical fruit, and at a cool 11% abv, it’s like no kind of Malbec we’ve ever tasted. The wine has aromas of passionfruit, guava, tangerine and mango, white pepper, cranberry, and wild strawberry that you can smell about six feet away from the glass. Light, transparent, and unbearably juicy on the palate, this wine tastes like strawberry-mango punch with a tactile note of orange pith on the finish. Fresh and breezy and unconcerned with the expectations we have for Malbec, this is truly something different!

Christina Gonzales is a firm believer that wine is made in the vineyard, specifically by the Vineyard stewards without whom there would be no wine. She’s on the board of AHIVOY, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting the education and professional development of the people who do the hardest part of winemaking, and too often get the least credit.


Mas de Libian Bout d’Zan 2021 $19

A friendly, versatile wine. Good for meals hot off the grill, for Moroccan lamb stews, for any given Friday night with friends. This is a rustic, ribald southern Rhone wine that manages to be both hearty and refreshing at the same time. The Thibon family have been farming their domaine for generations, and they embraced a sustainable, organic farming philosophy in the 1970s, many years before the rest of the vine-growing world caught on. Their stone-strewn vineyards are at the wilder northwestern edge of the Cotes-du-Rhone appellation, with a sweeping view over the whole valley, where they make wines filled with the earthy savor that hangs heavy in the Southern Rhone air. In this entry tier wine, there are aromas of smoked meat, of lavender and jasmine, cacao nibs, blackberry jam, and dry soil. The palate contains impressive depth: rich black fruit, dark chocolate, tilled earth, and a few peels of orange. While the wine is pretty full bodied, the way most wines made from Grenache and Syrah are, the Bout d’Zan never sits still, so the finishing impression is energetic and refreshing. A wine to keep the conversation going.


Nortico Vinho Verde Albarino 2021 $14 

Vinho Verde is coming of age before our eyes as a wine region. Long regarded as a source for cheap, lightly fizzy wine, there’s a growing sense of identity, and sub-regional specialty in this large and diverse country. The northernmost of Vinho Verde’s nine subregions is called Melgaco & Moncao, right across the river from Spain’s Rias Baixas and devoted to the same variety; Alvarinho (called Albarino in Spain). Drawn from an array of tiny garden vineyard plots in crumbly granite soil along the southern bank of the Minho river, this is a serious bottle of wine for under $15. Similar to the Rias Baixas wines on the opposite bank of the river, the Nortico opens with rich aromas of peach, lemon and lime and yellow apple, with a distinctly salty note borne on the Atlantic winds. While the wine has keen acidity, there’s no fizz here, no trapped CO2. This is a solidly built, bright and mouthwatering white that reaches every corner of the palate with white fruits, citrus oil, granite and salty minerality. If you haven’t tried this more serious sort of Vinho Verde, this easy to purchase bottle of Alvarinho would be an excellent place to start. Great for all occasions, especially those featuring seafood.


Hanson Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2018 $24 

Hanson Vineyards’ wines are a constant surprise. Drawn from creekside vineyards planted on an old berry patch in the mixed farm country north of Silverton, the Hanson family’s address is many miles away from the hills that support the majority of the Willamette Valley’s vineyards. Despite this distance, winemaker Jason Hanson has found something in these vineyards that many wineries in the hills are still searching for. With low intervention farming and simple winemaking, the winery turns out a menu of complex, satisfying wines with a distinctive personality every vintage. This Pinot Noir is a perfect example; a textural yet delicate wine from the warm 2018 vintage. The nose is a whole kitchen full of warm baking spices; cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg and ginger, dusted over fresh strawberries, blackberries, redcurrants, ripe red cherries, and dried rose petals. The wine is lively and reaches every corner of the palate, framed by silky tannins and kept afloat by fresh acidity. Flavors range from hand-picked strawberry and cherry and a dash of orange zest, to a shovelful of potting soil and red clay. The finish lands perfectly balanced, filled with baking spices and ready for the next sip. This wine is a little out of the way, and way out of the ordinary.


CasePaolin Manzoni Bianco Costa Delgi Angeli 2021 $20

Almonds. That seems like an odd word to lead the description of a white wine, but this one is from Italy’s Veneto, where that touch of almond finds its way into seemingly every sort of white wine. This Manzoni Bianco brought to us by the venerable organic Prosecco house CasePaolin has more than just a touch. The aroma is suffused with it. Salted almond, white peach tart with an almond flour crust, orange blossoms in an orchard next to an almond orchard, lemongrass and green curry spices in a dish also featuring sliced almonds. It’s a lush array of aromas that lead into a full bodied wine, sumptuously textured, yet fresh thanks to substantial acidity. The flavors include roasted peach, marzipan, and a lilt of acacia flower. The Manzoni grape was first bred in the 1930s by one Luigi Manzoni, who made it by crossing Pinot Blanc with Riesling. The result is a wine with the weight and texture of Pinot Blanc, the fresh fruit and zest of Riesling, and the strong preference for cool climate vineyards both parent varieties show. The variety may not have a long history by the standards of grape varieties, but if this wine is any indication, it has a bright future.


Domaine Rougeon Bouzeron La Cabane 2020 $26

The Aligote grape is having a moment. This variety has lived a mostly anonymous life in the deep shadow of Chardonnay, chiefly in the village of Bouzeron, where Burgundy’s Cote d’Or and Cote Chalonnaise meet. A few stubborn winemakers kept the grape alive as a local curiosity, this “other white grape of Burgundy” capable of ripening even on the cold north-facing slope of Bouzeron’s tiny valley. However, as prices in Burgundy continue their steady climb, and the climate becomes less predictable, the frost resistant, crisp and reliable Aligote has crept into the limelight. Domaine Rougeon happens to be one of the finest sites in all of Burgundy for Aligote, and they are a leading member of the Aligoteurs, an informal group of wineries putting the grape on center stage. The key to Aligote, as with most grapes, is not to get in the way. This grape speaks in a clear voice, and on the nose it says a lot about apples, apricots, Meyer lemon and key lime zest. There’s some hazelnut crusted brioche here too – this is still Burgundy, after all – and the palate is crisp and vivid, with a much sharper cut than Chardonnay. Flavors of lime, ginger, and apple blossom ride along on a delicately creamy textured wine and finish with a strong nutty note on the finish. In a region so totally devoted to the two famous varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, we’re excited to see the understudy finally get a chance to shine.


Liska Willamatte Valley Gruner Veltliner 2021 $24

Chris Butler and Draga Zheleva met in the UC Davis wine program, but the journey that led them to founding Liska Wines in the Willamette Valley first took them to wineries in Germany and Australia. A suspicion that they wanted to work with cold climate grapes turned to sure knowledge in the cellars of Heymann-Lowenstein and Selbach Oster. They came back to the United States in early 2019, choosing the Willamette Valley as the place where their chosen style of wine would thrive. Everyone knows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do well here, but Chris and Draga believe the Valley should have a reputation for a wider portfolio, including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Gamay, Syrah, and this Gruner Veltliner, all minted with freshness and acidity first and foremost in mind. This wine takes us decisively back to Gruner Veltliner’s homeland in Austria, with an unmistakable note of white pepper on the nose, alongside crisp green apple, clay, lemon curd, and a bouquet of spring blossoms. Toe-curling acidity mixes with texture so delicately creamy it feels like it might hold its shape, and bold struck flavors of crunchy Rainier cherry, lemon balm, and distinctly salty minerality. The focus, purity, and vision apparent in this wine make it all the more impressive that this is Liska’s first vintage. We can’t wait to see what’s coming next.


Chateau La Rame Bordeaux Rouge 2022 $22

Chateau La Rame looks across the Garonne river towards the vineyards of Sauternes and Barsac. In a classic tale of a wine from the wrong side of the ‘tracks’, the local appellation of Sainte Croix du Mont was once a popular source of sweet wine, but fell into obscurity in the 20th century without headline grabbing estates. The current generation of owners at La Rame are dedicated to filling that role, and have established a modern reputation for classic bordeaux of every sort. This dark and well-manicured red offers everything a Bordeaux should. It begins with aromas of plum, blackcurrant, tomato leaf and tobacco, granite and well worn leather. Full bodied and deeply etched with tannins, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend is all about the earth. Dried leaves and fresh tilled black soil, clay and graphite, all embedded with black cherry compote and a whisper of cinnamon and violets. It comes as a bit of a surprise that this wine hardly touched oak at all on the way from vine to bottle, with only 10% of the wine aged in old barrels. All that intensity and sturdy earthiness is the soil-driven work of grapes. This wine is an affordable window into the heart of the region, and we recommend classic dishes featuring mushrooms and beef.


Txomin Etxaniz Getariako Txakolina 2021 $18

There is a bar in a castle on a hill overlooking San Sebastian. Urgulleko Polborina is where you go to cool off after a mad-dash feast in the old town’s various Pintxo bars. Urgulleko Polborina is on a terrace overlooking the bay and the mountains beyond, and it might be the best view in the city, perfectly accompanied by that tiny treat, the Basque Gilda: an olive, an anchovy, and a pepper on a toothpick. It’s a simple thing, a simple and tiny atomic explosion of salty, briny flavor. Now Imagine, if you will, this Gilda in the form of a wine. In this charming Txakolina from Txomin Etxaniz, we’re more or less there. Olive brine and savory note of the seaside, with fleur de sel, lemon juice, lime zest, an olive with a touch of goat cheese stuffed inside, and there’s a pickled green pepper too. This is a food wine in the sense that it smells and tastes like food; it fills the imagination with the energy of waves crashing up against the rugged Cantabrian shore, and the palate, light and zesty with meyer lemon and lime mixing with salt and pickle juice, all cut with a textural dash of fresh whipped cream. Mouth-watering citrus and salt stamp the finish. Of course this is a wine for things that come out of the sea. The shorter the cooking time on the dish the better.


Corte Gardoni Bianco di Custoza Greoto 2021 $17

Gianni Piccoli was a master of the wines of Custoza and Bardolino. For fifty years, he set the standard for this picturesque corner of Veneto, just south of Lake Garda’s southern shore. He took his grapes away from the local cooperative in 1980 to make his own wine his own way, to better capture the particular terroir of a region which has often struggled to define itself as anything but “not Soave.” Since then, Corte Gardoni has been a leading estate for Custoza, instrumental in defining the character of wines here: bright, nutty and floral, with a perceptible current of earth at the heart of each wine. 2021 is the first vintage made entirely by Gianni Piccoli’s children, and we tend to think the estate is in good hands. The blend begins with Garganega, the most prized white grape of the Veneto, but about 60% of the wine is made from a blend of Trebbiano, Trebbianello, Cortese, and Manzoni Bianco, varieties native and largely limited to the region. On the nose: pear compote, red apple, cinnamon, clove, and spring blossoms vie for your attention. On the palate, there is the clarity and precision the estate is known for. That apple core comes with a scoop of marzipan, a dash of cinnamon, and a strong touch of soil, the white clay and gravel that gives this wine a distinct minerality. This is a wine for spring, and lends itself well to delicately flavored dishes featuring spring leafy greens.