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?”
Filipa Pato is the daughter of one of Bairrada’s most famous and important winemakers, Luis Pato. His wines are monuments to attentive winemaking and they are one of the main reasons anyone today knows or cares about Bairrada and its prized grape varieties, Baga, Bical, and Cercial. Filipa Pato might be a better winemaker than her father, and has stepped entirely out of his shadow to cast one of her own, and she makes a wide range of wines under a handful of labels, all biodynamically farmed, minimally processed, and dedicated entirely to native grape varieties. As she calls it; “Authentic wine without makeup”. Her most prominent offering is the cheerful Dinimica label, where this white version is an even blend of Bical and Cercial that offers up notes of yellow apple, tangerine, rambutan, garlicky olive tapenade, gin botanicals, lime zest and a granite-scented mineral note. On the palate, the Dinimica is a live wire that reminds us again that Cercial is among the most vividly acidic grape varieties in the world and Bical is not far behind. It is explicitly salty, light bodied but vibrating with energy, and filled with more green and yellow fruits like apple, pear, and lemon, all dusted with white pepper. This wine pairs with the whole spring menu: rosemary chicken with new potatoes, white fish and strongly flavored vegetable dishes, and most anything your imagination can cook up that isn’t red meat.
There is an elemental quality to great Chenin Blanc that we simply can’t resist. At its best Chenin combines ethereal aromas and light, high toned flavors with deeply carved texture and quiet, persistent power. Domaine les Pierres Ecrite in Montlouis makes this sort of wine. The winery is the work of two winemakers, Coralie and Anthony Rassin, who purchased their estate in 2016, with old Chenin Blanc vines on the banks of the Cher river in Montlouis-sur-Loire. Using organic methods in the vineyard and a light touch in the cellar, they have quickly established a reputation for rich textured, brilliantly crisp and high toned Chenin Blancs with acidity so high that the softening influence of malolactic fermentation never takes hold. In a cool vintage like 2021, their wine simply shines. Aromas of Anjou pear, lime and lemon juice, honeysuckle, chamomile, and a chalky soil note. On the palate, all that vivid acidity brings flavors of rainier cherry, orange, preserved pears, pineapple, and that same throughline of chalky clay mixed with saline minerals. There’s enough weight here to absorb the acidity, but only just, and the wine gives the textural impression of bursting at the seams with starlight. A dijon honey crusted ham would do nicely here, but shrimp and scallop dishes are a good bet too.
Nebbiolo is generally known as a grape that does best on its own, a monovarietal champion of Northern Italy in famous places like Barolo and Barbaresco. This laser focus is a bit of a shame, because Nebbiolo is actually a willing partner in blends, and does some of its best work in concert with a host of other varieties native to the Alpine valleys of northern Italy. La Kiuva is a cooperative in the French speaking Vallee d’Aosta; where fifty independent growers in the heartbreakingly beautiful region of Arnad-Montjovet combine to produce charming and bright blends of Nebbiolo - localled called Picotendro - with local curiosities like Neyret and Gros Vien. This Rose might be their most charming and brightest wine, aromatic like an alpine meadow and gulpable like a glacier-fed stream. On the nose, peaches and strawberries, orange zest and red grapefruits come accented with a sprig of wintergreen. The palate is mouthwatering fresh and filled with flavors of wild strawberry, granite-laced soil, and peaches, with fresh cracked coriander and a touch of a botanical spice. This is the wine to greet the early signs of spring, to pair with delicate fish dishes and hastily composed cheese boards, or to simply enjoy by itself with a sunset and friends.
“Only the vineyard, the vintage, and the grape should speak” - GianLuca Colombo
GianLuca Colombo is one of Piedmont’s most exciting young winemakers, famous for his unapologetically delicate Barolo. His methods are deceptively simple yet exacting, as he treats fruit from each vineyard differently according to site-specific needs, and he never fines or filters. For this second label, a side project with grower Federico Scarzello in Roero, GianLuca puts biodynamically farmed grapes from the sandy soils of Roero into amphora - a different kind of sand, if you think about it - to polish the edges without sacrificing the clarity of the wine with any kind of oak influence. Aromas of apple and pear blossoms, applesauce, sweetfern, tarragon, granite, and a touch of pipe smoke. Clear and crisp on the palate, the Arneis shines with lemon - almost limoncello - apple, grapefruit, bay leaf and fresh sage. A pleasant note of savory herbs lingers on the finish. That clarity and finesse that marks all of GianLuca Colombo’s wines is evident in this refreshing, spring scented wine.
Standing atop the rugged dome of Helderberg, one is treated to a sweeping view out over the green valley of Stellenbosch and the wide sweep of False Bay curving towards Cape Town and Table mountain in the distance. Most of that green land is one sort of vineyard or another, and one of the oldest and most important of those vineyards is Meerlust, or Love of the Sea, an estate founded in 1756 near the coast, where the moderating effect of the Southern Ocean is strongest. The estate, like the majority of the district, is dedicated primarily to Bordeaux varieties led by Cabernet Sauvignon. South African wine is generally lumped into the ‘new world’ category, but the vineyards here are very old, and in Meerlust’s wines there is a decidedly ‘old world’ sensibility at work. Blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, this red shows aromas of earth and blackcurrant, tomato leaf and black cherry, and South African wine’s characteristic whiff of pipe tobacco and savory herbs, a profile much closer to Bordeaux than to Napa. The palate is perfectly medium in weight, with taut tannic backbone and buoyant acidity, featuring flavors of black cherry fruit, warm, friable soil, leather and baker’s chocolate, plentiful dried herbs, a touch of balsamic, and a single vanilla bean that lingers through the supple finish. There may not be a better wine for a classically grilled steak, but dishes prominently featuring mushrooms will also do nicely. This is Meerlust’s entry-tier wine, but we suspect it will behave itself in the cellar for at least another five to eight years.
New York makes a lot of wine. Technically, New York makes about four times as much wine as Oregon does, but precious little of it makes it to the west coast. When something does, however, it tends to catch our attention. Osmote is one of these wines, the project of Ben Riccardi, who worked in California and New Zealand before returning to his native Finger Lakes region to start a winery of his own. It takes passion, commitment, and nerve to make wine here, in one of the coldest wine regions on earth. It would be prohibitively cold for grapes, but for a series of deep narrow lakes creating pockets of warmer weather. Seneca Lake is the largest of these, and one of the most heavily planted to grapes. Ben uses a “relaxed” approach in the winery to preserve the freshness and delicacy of all his wines, and in this snappy Chardonnay his approach yields excellent results. The aromas are all sharp and bright; green apple, lemon cream, white peach and pear and spring blossoms, with a wisp of pipe smoke and brioche. The palate is buzzing with energy at 11% abv and crackling acidity. Bouncy flavors of apple and pear shade into almond, white strawberry, and banana leaf with a pure, refreshing, mineral struck finish, perfect for zesty fish dishes or chicken tenders. If you are a fan of cold climate wines like Chablis, or of wines from the Loire or Oregon’s colder vintages, this New York Chardonnay is a must try!
Sometimes Cabernet Franc is so earthy that we wonder if they forgot to put grapes in. Sometimes Cabernet Franc tastes like the winemaker accidentally dumped a bag of pepper into the fermenter or filtered the wine through their flower garden. Cabernet Franc is a grape that doesn’t avoid the conversation. It is a straightforward variety. Jean-Maurice Raffault takes his Cabernet Franc at its word and doesn’t try to coax out more fruit or sand down the crunchy tannins. His wines are what they are. Never more so than in his Monopole vineyard in Chinon, the Clos d’Isore, an organically farmed plot facing north, away from the sun in an already cool region and full of eighty-year-old Cabernet Franc vines in pure limestone clay soils. His 2020 vintage shows a pure clay note on the nose, with accents of white pepper, crushed savory herbs, tomato leaf, dried blackberries, raspberries and crushed cherries. The palate is light and elegant and crunchy, fresh raspberry fruit in a bowl made of clay with intense tannic grip. While the impression of this wine stays firmly etched on a clay tablet all the way through the finish, there is a lingering note of potpourri and raspberry there too. Earthy wine lover’s alert!
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.
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.
Strade Provinziale Cuprense 23 is a long, winding road that traces the crest of one of southern Marche’s innumerable ridge lines, ribs of the Apennines descending gently to the Adriatic sea. Somewhere along this road, set between panoramas of rolling countryside just outside the impossibly picturesque hilltop village of Cossignano, is Azienda Agricola Fiorano, an organic farm producing a wide range of crops, including spicy olive oils and mineral-scented wines. Perched at the top of a valley between the mountains and the sea, the site benefits from the constant breeze between the two, a more or less constant moderating influence. On our way to book a stay in their rentable on-site farmhouse, let’s briefly consider their humble but surprisingly sophisticated Sangiovese. The wines of Fiorano always feel pure, unmanipulated, and gently handled, giving the grapes inside the best chance to display both uncomplicated deliciousness and nuance. Here, in a shining ruby red glass, we get aromas of sour cherry, black raspberry and rhubarb, with tarragon and a touch of fresh tilled earth and tar. The palate is substantial enough to stand up to hearty pastas or home-brewed pizzas but shows unclouded notes of cranberry, raspberry, dusty earth, and a generous pinch of fennel, oregano, sage, and rosemary that all linger on the finish, inviting the next bite of that pizza I mentioned earlier.
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 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.