Azienda Agricola Scacciadiavoli - or “Devil banisher” - was named for an exorcist who resided on the edge of town. The estate began in 1884 as a relatively new concept; a large Italian winery in an age and place where only small family farms existed. The estate entered its modern age in 1954 when Amilcare Pambuffetti returned home to purchase the farm he had worked on as a boy. Now in the hands of the fourth generation (Amilcare, Iacopo, Liù, Romeo and Fiammetta), Scacciadiavoli still makes old school, unadorned Umbrian wines in the oldest traditions of Central Italy. Montefalco may be best known for its imposing Sagrantinos, but we want to save some space for their white wine, the versatile, easy and breezy Grechetto. Lemon colored and lemon scented too, with notes of lemon meringue, apple blossom, lemon curd, key lime, and a dusting of chalky soil. The palate is juicy, full and satisfying, with tangerine, orange and lemon fruit, a bit of marzipan comes through on the finish to round out the edges of this cheerful white. Get two bottles of this for your next mushroom risotto. Use one to cook the food and the other to drink alongside.
About a half hour southwest of Lake Maggiore’s southern tip, Le Piane’s vineyards are just outside the town of Boca, surrounded by dense woods among rolling hills, the fingertips of the Alps that dominate the northern skyline. The road up to Le Piane’s vineyard is a winding dirt track, and one would be forgiven for missing the ancient, windowless gray building that is the winery. This is Piedmont’s wildest, most remote quarter, but in some ways it’s the most remarkable. Le Piane’s story is one of the more dramatic stories in the world of wine. In the eighteenth century, Boca was a thriving region with more than 4,000 hectares of Nebbiolo, Vespolina, and Croatina planted. In the 19th and 20th centuries industry in Milan and Turin called and most people from Boca answered until in the 1980s there were fewer than 10 total hectares of vines. In 1988, Antonio Cerri was in his eighties and one of the region’s last winemakers, until Austrians Christoph Kunzli and Alexander Tolf visited and tasted his wines. They decided that day to purchase Le Piane and save this unique corner of the wine world from extinction. Today, Boca is known as the most ethereal version of Nebbiolo in all of Piedmont. This 2021 version of their entry tier “Maggiorina” is composed mostly of Nebbiolo, Croatina, with Vespolina and nine other varieties in tiny amounts. The recipe yields sublime aromas of fresh picked cherries, anise, and tangerine with a light dusting of dry soil. The palate is fresh, silky and bright with a quick, firm handshake of tannins on the finish to remind you to keep eating your fresh mushroom pasta dish.
Mendoza is where the barbeque reaches perhaps its highest expression, where the sun shines all year long, and where the red grape Malbec has become nearly synonymous in these high, dry vineyards watered by Andean snowmelt. This is red wine country.
And yet, the same sun that brings so much depth and weight to Malbec gives just as much clarity and poise to Chardonnay. The same soil that nourishes those heavy reds offers a delightful dusty minerality to Chardonnay, and that same clear sun brings out the most playful side of Chardonnay’s personality. The wine shows yellow apples and lemons, marmalade and lemondrop and peaches and tangerines in abundance, with a touch of creme brulee. Texturally, a few extra days of skin contact makes the El Zorrito juicy and intense and energetic. In short, simply irresistible. Julia Zuccardi may be scion of one of Argentina’s great Malbec makers, but with her Santa Julia label, she wanted to show a different face of Mendoza. Drawing from vineyards in Maipu, Santa Rosa, and the Valle de Uco, Santa Julia wines are organically tended, naturally vinified, bright and fresh and surprisingly complex. This is your wine if you’re pulling chicken or shrimp off a skewer, or if you’re having a picnic that one week in February when Portland’s weather gets warm.
Domaine de Brin is found in the rolling countryside near the towns of Gaillac and Cordes-sur-Ciel in that quiet part of Southwest France where Occitan can still be heard in sleepy village restaurants. Winemaker Damien Bonnet is firmly dedicated to fully organic and biodynamic farming and minimum intervention in the winery, convinced that a healthy, polycultural vineyard yields better wines. Damien considers everything that grows on the estate, from lentils to sunflowers to the oak forests that ring the vineyards, to be essential to the character of the wines, and while his winemaking always comes with a light touch, he is constantly experimenting with different aging vessels and techniques. For this skin-contact cuvee, he put Mauzac in sandstone vessels for three weeks to see how a small, unregarded yellow grape variety would respond. Color us convinced, because this wine has the combination of intensity, structural depth, and complexity so long assumed to be the sole province of red wine. On the nose, the Brin Mauzac offers up black pepper, Bergamot tea, and lime zest; apple, peach, and apricot fruits with oak leaf underbrush and gardening soil earthiness. The palate is unambiguously full bodied, defined by a sturdy tannin structure, gentle acidity, and bold flavors of orange, apricot, lime, and a strong clay-lined earthy note. The finish leaves behind impressions of dried fruits and tannins that demand an earthy, savory food pairing like french pea soup, tikka masala, or hearty sausage dishes.
Languedoc is smaller than Americans think. It’s about the size of Massachusetts but with a far better climate. For such a relatively small place, there’s a lot of diversity among Languedoc’s wine, from bright, exotic and experimental wines to deep, satisfying traditional stuff. Chateau Massiac is a paragon of the latter. Under the guidance of Bernard Boudouresques and his family, the estate farms organically and makes wine in concrete vats for both fermentation and aging before bottling, an oak-free program which maintains the unvarnished, terroir-driven purity of this deceptively elegant cuvee. The Chateau Massiac is a blend of four parts Syrah to one part Grenache, all given a brooding dark, earthy yet refined cut. Aromas of cassis, blackberry falling off the vine, juniper, and savory herbs like bay leaf and thyme, with a roasted meaty touch that speaks to the proportion of Syrah inside. The palate has a strong tannic backbone, supporting flavors of licorice, cinnamon, deep blackberry, garrigue scented earth, and bitter dark chocolate. A wonderful pairing with pan roasted vegetables and other hearty, homespun fare.
Careful readers of our newsletters will have noted the increasing frequency of the name Sablet in our Rhone offers. This as-yet unassuming village is only a Cotes du Rhone for now, but we suspect it’s only a matter of time before it gains an appellation title all its own to match Gigondas and Vaqueyras, the two villages immediately to the south. For now, Sablet remains the best value available in the Rhone Valley. The wines here are dependably savory, a little lighter than the critically acclaimed wines next door, a little more food-friendly, and a lot less expensive. Domaine de la Mavette is the latest example we’ve found, and we couldn’t be happier. The Domaine is a small estate with family roots dating to the nineteenth century. Current owner Jean-Francois Lambert farms organically and takes a simple, hands-off approach in the cellar to let this Cuvee of Grenache and Syrah speak for itself. The aroma of this wine is prototypically Sablet, led by Garrigue, with stewed black cherry fruit, rose scented potpourri, and leather in support. The palate is a warm and generous blend of cherry cordial, salty earth, and all the herbs you might put in a winter stew wrapped in substantial tannins. Wines as well-priced as this generally fall off on the finish, but the Mavette resonates with rustic, earth-tinted fruit.
Wilfried Crochet is the winemaker who came home. His family ran a small domaine in Lorraine, making wine for the locals of Bulligny in the Cote de Toul. While Lorraine was once a productive winemaking region, its production dropped dramatically around 1914-1918, and afterwards, with Champagne rising to prominence and Alsace nearby, most local winemakers left to work more lucrative vineyards elsewhere. Wilfried was one of them, training in Bordeaux and working in the Rhone, Greece, Australia, and finally in Champagne, mastering the art of sparkling wine. In 2016, he returned home to Bulligny with a decade of experience and the belief that his family estate in Lorraine was capable of making sparkling wine on a par with Champagne, and doing so organically and naturally. After tasting this delicate, fresh, and creamy rose, we think he was right. Made from 95% Gamay vinified white, with just 5% Rose Pinot Noir to produce the delicate salmon pink color, the aromas are of fresh wild strawberries, gooseberries, apple blossoms, and lime zest. The palate is carried on microscopic Champagne quality bubbles for a delicately creamy texture defined by a star burst of strawberries, with limestone soil touches and a floral finish. Effusive, delicious, and surprisingly serious, this is a wine that will fit any occasion, but doesn’t necessarily need one to enjoy.
Yellow rose, green apple, mint, chalk dusty soil, a touch of flint. These aromas are a few of our favorite things, and they’re all here in this zesty, satisfying bottle of Edelzwicker from one of our favorite Alsatian Domaines. This unpretentious style of wine is a traditional blend of Alsace’s “non-noble” grape varieties, Sylvaner, Auxerrois, and Chasslas. The Kientzler family domaine is in Ribeauville, the very heart of Alsace. While they’re more famous for their fantastic Riesling and Pinot Gris, they put just as much care and attention into their cheerful Edelzwicker, it’s more than an everyday sipper! While the grapes are less fashionable, the vines are still 30-60 years old, and impart surprising intensity and dimension to the finished product. Refreshing, full bodied, and mineral-scented, this Edelzwicker has juicy flavors of braised apple, allspice and white pepper. At $15 for a full liter bottle, this wine is a steal, and ready to be the centerpiece of your next dish of steamed mussels, white fleshed fish, alpine cheese, or choucroute garni.
Michael Malat is extremely tall. It’s the first thing you notice upon meeting him. His splendid wines are generally the second, as Michael is one of the most talented winemakers we’ve had the pleasure of meeting. His father Gerald was a talented winemaker who first brought the estate to prominence, but Michael seems to have reached another level, with a seemingly supernatural sense for imparting minerality into his wines. Everything he makes has a magical combination of textural broadness and aromatic focus that we find just as much in the entry level Gruner Veltliners as we do in his utterly magical single-vineyard Erste Lage wines. In 2020, he was given an absolute gift of a vintage, when the weather throughout Central Europe stayed temperate - not too hot, not too cold, deep into the fall. Winemakers looking for balance and keen acidity in their Gruner Veltliner didn’t have to look terribly hard in 2020. As usual, Malat was among the best of the region. In this striking bottle, there’s aromas of fresh lemon and green apple, lime, cracked white pepper and snap pea. The palate offers lemon curd and pineapple and yellow plum all bouncing around with energetic acidity. The finish leaves us with all these fruits, along with the faint impression of salt. Gruner is famous for its ability to stand up to asparagus, but it would do just as well with spicy Lao Sausage. Set your imagination free with this one.
Venda means Sell in Italian. We’re guessing this is an unsubtle hint to consumers not to age this wine, but to throw it in the grocery cart alongside tonight’s dinner. This is an intentionally unassuming blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for everyday quaffing. But sometimes, a winery can’t help itself and accidentally makes a masterpiece. Azienda Agricola Vignalta is such a winery in Italy’s Colli Euganei region north of the Po River. These hills were historically favored by the Venetian elite, and their taste for French style wines led to very old plantings of Bordeaux varieties. Vignalta is dedicated to low intervention winemaking and earthy, elegant wine, and this extends even to their humblest, most affordable cure. We’re additionally blessed this time around because the Venda is not supposed to be available nine years after vintage. For all the Venda’s usual rustic charm, only this kind of age can bring out the sort of elegance we normally only find at $30 or $40. Aromas of dark plum, blackberry and blueberry cooked into a pie announce the presence of Merlot, but there’s dried sage, oregano, fig, cinnamon, and a touch of vanilla too. Warm and inviting aromas lead to a warm and inviting palate; with more crushed berries, and dried Italian herbs alongside a sprig of nutmeg, and bit of graphite and deep black soil, bramble, and wood spice. Fully resolved tannins weave easily into still fresh acidity and carry the finish along much farther than the average under-$15 bottle. This wine has waited long enough. Take it home with tonight’s dinner.
Cvicek is a type of wine that comes from the eastern Slovenian region of Dolenjska, in deep countryside and isolated valleys where old traditions tend to remain as they have always been. First officially recorded in the 17th century, Cvicek has the most utterly charming appellation regulations in the world. The title has rules governing the blend of red and white varieties (in curiously specific proportions), elevation of the vineyards, level of acidity, method of harvesting, sulfur addition (less than 25 parts per million) and perhaps most importantly, maximum allowed alcohol: 10%. In a world full of specific appellation rules that might tell a winemaker what sort of soil they can plant their vines in, Cvicek has the most comprehensive set of rules we have ever seen. It is a happy coincidence that all these rules tell people like Bozidar and Marco Zajc to do what they were going to do anyway, which is to trap a beam of sunshine in a bottle. The wine shines with its own ruby red light, and throws aromas of crunchy cranberries, raspberries, red cherries and apple blossoms. Green apples, pears, pepper and orange oil too. All of these scents suggest a fresh and zippy sip to come, and it does not disappoint. The palate is crisp and clean and fresh like spring rain, with mouthwatering, toe curling acidity and notes of cranberry, orange, raspberry, rosehip and a gravelly mineral touch through the finish. This is a red wine you keep in the fridge, to bring out only on special occasions such as lunchtime or dinnertime.
I recall one day early in my wine selling career when a fellow representing a wine distributor in Ohio came by my humble airport wine kiosk and told me that Willamette Valley wineries should pull out all their Pinot Noir and replant to Gamay. I told him that most Willamette Valley wineries were in the business of making money, so it was probably not going to happen any time soon, but to his credit, it is hard to argue that whenever we taste a Willamette Valley Gamay we fall just a little bit in love. Scott Frank has been making his wines in the Willamette Valley since 2010, and they’ve always been a little different. Scott looks to the fresh, workaday wines of the Loire Valley for inspiration, using traditional Loire grapes like Melon, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc that have quietly been planted in the Willamette Valley for generations. This 2021 edition Gamay is a perfect example of the right grape, in the right place, in the right hands. Willamette Valley clay is strong on the nose alongside black cherry, boysenberry, rose-scented ganache, sweetfern, and a dash of orange oil. The palate is classic Gamay, with delicately chewable tannins holding together an otherwise full and juicy textured wine bursting with ripe black cherries and clay-scented earth. Low in alcohol and high in flavor, this is a wine to enjoy soon, with a roast chicken, a bit of meat from Olympia Provisions and cheese from Cowbell, or your secret potato salad recipe.
Domaine Drouhin’s holdings extend from Burgundy’s most northerly vineyards of Chablis to the Southern reaches of the Macconais. They are one of a handful of negociants who make wine from every one of Burgundy’s villages, and every wine they make is two things; at once an unmistakable example of the local terroir, and unmistakably Drouhin. The house was an early convert to the virtues of organic viticulture, and a major driver in Burgundy’s ongoing transition, but the house has always insisted on the highest quality fruit, a necessary ingredient for their unadorned style. In the Chardonnays there is a freshness, a lightly creamy touch, and a vivid note of salty minerality at the core. It’s there in the monumental Montrachets, and still there in this satisfying Saint Veran. This humble appellation surrounds Pouilly Fuisse and overlaps the northern edge of Beaujolais; this country is for every-day wines, but there’s surprising complexity to be found here. Gooseberry, green apple, lemon curd and shortbread notes on the nose lead into a palate broad and lively, with a silky texture and clear notes of apple, mirabelle plum, lime zest and brioche all underpinned by the inimitable limestone-soil minerality of Burgundy’s finest vineyards. The finish echoes with touches of lemon and a saline note that invites the next bite of white fleshed fish or eggplant cassoulet.
Valpolicella is a crown jewel of northern Italian wine. Lake Garda to the west and the Dolomites to the north offer some of Italy’s most dramatic vistas, but Valpolicella itself is far more than the bit you drive through to get to other destinations. Clear running mountain rivers have spent millennia carving a series of deep valleys through these foothills, leaving a landscape of emerald green forest, steep hills and misty valleys, with farms and vineyards clinging to the terraced slopes. Damoli’s estate is in one of these valleys in the town of Negrar di Valpolicella, the traditional heart of the appellation. Like most wineries here, Damoli makes the full range of Valpolicella classics, the Brooding Amarones and the robust Ripassos, and they do those wines very well, but we find ourselves coming back again and again to this simple, delicious Valpolicella Classico. This is the emblematic red blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara that’s so easy to drink that it rarely gets credit for just how nuanced it can be. Here we find notes of cherry cordial, rose, cranberry, and allspice with a touch of ginger root. The palate is wonderfully juicy, showing waves of red berry fruit, sage, tarragon and tangerine peel through the finish. You won’t want this one to finish though, it’s a joy to drink and will keep you coming back for more! For food pairing, we suggest Pizza with friends.
This delicious Pinot Noir is a testament that great fruit plus simple, careful winemaking yields profound results. Tahmiene Momtazi has made the wines of her family’s Maysara winery since 2007. Brave Cellars is her and her husband Colin Smith’s own label, using grapes from the Demeter certified Momtazi vineyard to show the elegant and approachable side of Willamette Valley’s Pinot Noir. The Momtazi vineyard is one of the most famous in the valley, perched at the entrance to the Van Duzer corridor through which Pacific air flows to bring the Willamette Valley its cooler climate touch. With vines planted mostly into basalt-tinted volcanic soil, wines from here offer keen acidity and a distinct black soil signature that pick them out from the crowd just about every vintage. In this 2021 “Less Traveled” Pinot Noir, Tahmiene found that singular soil note and coaxed out bright red cherry, cranberry, underbrush and allspice notes to go alongside. The palate, true to the winemaker’s stated intention, is elegant and expressive, buoyant and silky. Notes of raspberry and pomegranate and herbs with more touches of baking spices all linger gently on the palate and through the finish. This is a classic Oregon Pinot Noir and should go alongside classic Willamette Valley fare like mushrooms with hare or roast salmon with a tamari glaze.