We wine folk do like to talk about farming. That’s extra true when the farmer is Angelique Leon, who does it organically and with as little intervention as possible. When it comes to Cabernet Franc in its ancestral home of Chinon, the wine does most of the talking for us, because there may not be a wine from anywhere else that tastes so explicitly of the soil it comes from. We don’t think that every bottle of Chinon has a scoop of vineyard dirt in it, but with aromas like these we are given to wonder. Red clay, potting soil, chalk and rock salt, underbrush featuring dry savory herbs and tomato leaves. If you’re starting to wonder if I’m discussing wine, there’s fruit here too; black raspberry jam and juicy black cherry, together with that iconic Cab-Franc note of roasted red bell pepper, but this wine is first and foremost about the earth. The texture is driven by the same themes, with sturdy, rough-hewn tannins and home-spun acidity framing a warm, earthy flavored and satisfying wine that offers grace notes of strawberry, cornflour, and dried oregano, but that totemic note of clay-packed earth is present from first sniff through the resonant finish.
The Gard department is the eastern half of Languedoc, where granite-crested hills cut every which way across the landscape rising gently up to France’s Massif Central, where golden hour somehow lasts from sunrise to sunset, and where, in the picturesque village of Souvignargues, Thierry Forestier has made a name for himself and his delicately structured, naturally vinified wines. His “Anatheme” cuvee blends proud local varieties Carignan and Aramon to magically trap the Languedoc’s essential earthy garrigue inside a peach-strawberry cobbler. There is a streak of iron in here too, a sprig of cinnamon and nutmeg, hints of rosehip and early spring flowers. Texturally, the wine wanders but is never lost, juicy and gentle, but guided by a lodestar of acidity that illuminates each flavor and guides them all towards a sappy, elegant finish. For lovers of natural wine this is required reading, but the purity and intensity of fruit here will appeal to anyone, especially in the presence of cassoulet or white fish.
The prize for best imitation of Nebbiolo by a grape no one has ever heard of is awarded to this elegant, sturdy-structured wine made from the profoundly local variety Vespolina, found only in the Alpine foothills of northern Piedmont. By tradition, Vespolina was used by vignerons of the Colline Novaresi as a blending grape to soften Nebbiolo’s hardest edges, but today, winemakers are finding it can be a delight all on its own. With local roots in the fifteenth century, the Arlunno family and the Cantelupo winery are among the oldest winemaking establishments in the region, and the “Villa Horta” cuvee is their celebration of an underrated grape. Aromas of fennel and oregano, white pepper, tart black cherry, orange blossom and a single vanilla bean. On the palate, those red and orange fruits mix with a touch of bay leaf and tar; while the texture arrives silky and leaves behind a pleasant coating of short, sharp tannins. This medium bodied wine should fill in the gaps when you have rich, mushroomy pasta dishes on the table.
Have you ever tried a really fancy orange juice? The sort you find in the specialty imports section of the artisanal grocery store. Maybe it’s Cara Cara orange, or some cultivar native to just one village in the mountains outside Seville. The aroma that juice gives off is the primary note of this Sardinian wine made from the curious Monica vine. Further notes of cranberry, Guatemalan coffee bean, clove and cinnamon offer thought-provoking depth. The palate offers ripe berries like strawberry and cranberry, more exotic spices like coriander, mustard seed, turmeric and tamarind, all in conversation with that juicy, ever-present orange note towards a mouthwatering finish. No one knows for sure what branch of the vine family Monica belongs to, but we do know it arrived in Sardinia in the 14th century at - where else - a monastery full of French monks. Today the grape isn’t found anywhere else, but has made a comfortable home on this topographically diverse and culturally blended island, offering a brighter, friendlier counterpoint to Sardinia’s more famous imported variety. The Pala family makes just about every kind of wine Sardinia makes, but I bet that at the end of the day, you’d see this Monica open on their kitchen counter.
If you follow the rivers west from Torino, you come eventually to the town of Pinerolo, where the Chisone river cuts a path out of the Alps and traces a well worn road that eventually leads to France’s Savoie. Vineyards pepper the foothills on either side of the river, where rare vines imported long ago from France grow side by side with nearly all of Piedmont’s varied menu, and wines from this region have been noted since the 13th century. While blends are common here, this varietal Barbera beautifully captures the alpine character of the Pinerolese hills. The nose offers surreptitious complexity with all the clarity of a bell’s first peal of the morning, offering aromas of fresh red rose, cherry fruit leather, Turkish delight, cola and watermelon. On the palate, red fruits like raspberry and Rainier cherry ring out, the texture a give and take between lush, elegant, velvety tannins and precocious acidity. Back bench notes of bitter dark chocolate and lime zest come late on the finish in this gorgeous wine. The Raviolo family - Valerio, Luigina, Daniele and Simone - named their winery Le Marie for the passion and joy they take in making wine in their corner of Piedmont. We’re confident you’ll find the same when you take a sip over here.
When you walk into a wine shop, there is a decent chance that the wine merchants inside will at some point ask you about food. Wine famously pairs with food; Italy has made an entire civilization out of that single concept, France has made mountains of money off the Bordeaux = Steak equation. There is however, one particular corner of France, a little stretch of river just a little south of Lyon where vignerons have figured out a way to cut out the middleman. There, in the villages near the Rhone river, in the wide and wild Colline Rhodannienes appellation, they have figured out how to make wine that just tastes like food. Francois Villard is among them, using the meaty syrah grape to make a wine that smells primarily of pot roast; Deep salty broth, well cooked beef, caramelized shallots, mushrooms, and potatoes, and just a little too much ground black pepper. Someone threw in a scoop of blackberry jam too. The palate offers up waves of blackberry, bacon, cherry, well-stir-fried mushroom and ferrous earth, lithe and elegant with a gentle squeeze of tannins on the finish. Salted meat and dark fruits linger on the finish, a coupling that works better in practice than in theory. It's no surprise that the best pairing for this wine is some kind of rich meaty stew. Pork dishes will also do, some earthier dals, or umami-centric mushroom dishes. Drink this wine now because it's awesome. Francois makes fancier wines that should wait in the cellar.
Few wine growing regions have more personality than the Rhone Valley. With mountains to the north and sea to the south, the rugged, sun-baked and herb-scented land in between takes up the best elements of each and yields nearly ideal country for vines to flourish. Domaine de l’Amauve is nestled in the very heart of the region in the picture-perfect village of Seguret, just a ten minute drive from Gigondas. This bottling, “La Vigne de Louis,” offers up the aromas you would expect from a vineyard so close to the center of the Rhone. Ripe black plum, orange oil, suede, a note of fresh ground coffee, and the full range of herbs and spices that combine into the aroma called ‘garrigue’. The palate shows sturdy tannins, silky acidity, and a delicious stew of red and black berries with hints of iron-rich soil, orange zest and clove. A hearty wine for a hearty time of year.
Bodegas Aranleon Valencia Bobal “Encuentro” 2020 $14
Portugal is great at churning out delicious wine with exotic, heady aromas and flavors you can’t find elsewhere. Portugal is not great at letting us know what we’re drinking. Like any place vines grow, Portugal has its own roster of native varieties, and Portuguese winemakers love nothing more than to blend them all together so we poor American wine drinkers haven’t a clue what’s going on. In Bucelas, just a few miles north of Lisbon, the folks at Chao do Prado blend together Arinto and Sercial to make a fair approximation of Chenin Blanc. Aromas of Anjou pear, lemon curd, lime zest, pineapple, kiwi, and chalky soil lead into a palate both custard-creamy and tense with live wire acidity giving life to notes of beeswax, mint, orange, lemon, creme fraiche, and savory herbs. It would be faster to make a list of foods this wine would not pair with, but it’s particularly good with roast chicken or something featuring paneer cheese.
Save yourself a trip to the Portland Rose Garden and open up this bottle of Gemischter Satz for all your flower smelling needs. Drawn from a head-spinning blend of Austrian grapes including Rivaner, Gruner Veltliner, Gelber Muskateller, and Weissburgunder, this wine wants to be the life of the party. Notes of gardenia, honeysuckle, Thai basil, mint, Rainier cherry, persimmon, lemon, lime, apple, and white pepper rise from the glass on a joyful ray of sunshine. The palate offers much the same symphonic selection of flowers, with a deep rose note added to the chorus, with chamomile, kiwi and tangerine for good measure. There’s even a delicate touch of earth, and beer lovers who enjoy Pilsner will find something familiar in here too. Barbara Ohlzelt specializes in bright, cheerful wines with more depth than their price suggests, but this crunchy crisp blend may be the most purely evanescent of all her wines.
When we’re looking for wines to feature in our newsletter, we want wines that make us happy and we want wines that make us think. This is one of those lucky wines that does both. Born in the shade of the Alps in Piedmont’s northwest corner, Erbaluce di Caluso can often rise out of the crowd of often anonymous Italian white wine to show us something truly different. This “Pajarin” from Agricola Chiussuma is maybe the best Erbaluce we’ve ever had. The nose brings honey drizzled hay, pear skin, cinnamon, orange extract, black tea, tarragon, sage, and petrichor, that curiously fresh smell that comes after a rain shower. The palate is juicy and full thanks to generous acidity balancing out Erbaluce’s natural weight. The underbelly of Cara Cara orange comes with grace notes of toffee, sous bois, vanilla bean, marzipan, and shortbread. This wine will sing an aria alongside Charcuterie or mushroom-rich pasta dishes native to Piedmont, but it would also work well with an earthy dal and saag spread. .
We understand if your eyes glaze over halfway through reading earth’s longest wine denomination title. “The little green grape of the castles of Jesi” seems classic enough without also adding the “Reserve” title, and then a special cuvee name referencing one of the aforementioned castles. We know what you mean when you ask for “Verdicchio”, or “Jesi”, or “That Italian one that tastes like Gruner Veltliner”. The key to remember is that if you have a difficult meal to pair wine to, this wine is probably the answer. Verdicchio dei Castelli di yadda yadda goes with nearly everything that once flew, swam or grew from a seed in the ground. Verdicchios are problem solvers, bold enough to stand up to hearty fare but playful, subtle, and spicy enough to handle more delicate dishes too. Marotti Campi is one of the foremost wineries of the region, and this is their flagship wine. Aromas of ripe green apple, key lime, lemongrass, coriander, white pepper and poultry jus are impressive enough, but the real genius of this Verdicchio is the fruit focused palate, featuring orange and ripe cantaloupe, fresh sage and rosemary, all transmitted through a voluptuously textured medium that never loses focus thanks to an ample helping of acidity.
If you’ve been reading along with us for a while now, you know how much we love the white wines of southwest France. There’s something magical about the wide and occasionally wild countryside between Bordeaux and the Pyrenees. A sip of wine from Gascony feels like peering into the past, before international wine trends demanded uniformity and easy to recognize grape varieties. Domaine Chiroulet is one of our favorite examples of this sort of wine. The Domaine’s vineyards are way out in the country, far away from any kind of town or major road among gently rolling hills and fields of every kind. The main grape variety is Gros Manseng, blended with generous helpings of Sauvignon Blanc and Ugni Blanc. The aroma nearly has texture of its own, filled with lemongrass, passionfruit curd, lemon, peach pit, basil, and white pepper. The palate is juicy and zesty, filled to bursting with white grapefruit and peach and a whole field of lemongrass leading into a crisp and satisfying finish. This wine is easy to enjoy, but there’s depth to it if you look.
Arnaud Lambert has a decent claim to be the best producer of Chenin Blanc in Saumur. Vintage after vintage, his wines elevate the name Breze into the conversation with Savennieres and Vouvray as one of the great locales for Chenin Blanc on earth. His Clos de Midi vineyard is one of his finest sites, pure yellow tuffeau soil on a hillside. Chenin Blanc is the perfect vehicle to transmit this terroir, with lithe, limestone-driven minerality woven through from the first sniff all the way through the finish. Aromas include - but are not limited to - yellow plum, Anjou pear, beeswax, lemon curd, chamomile, and salt. The palate is sheer life and energy, powered by acidity that reaches every corner of the palate and brings along notes of pear and citrus, waxy honeycomb, quince, fresh chopped herbs, and limestone dust. For the genre, this is a full bodied wine, but never feels anything but fresh and vivid all the way through to a resonant, mineral-struck finish. The Clos de Midi is an emerging Grand Cru of the Loire, and this wine is worthy of a feast featuring a bird that takes all day to prepare.
Domaine Nigri Jurancon Sec “Pierre de Lune” 2020 $20
Jurancon is the closest thing France has to the Shire. The Pyrenees cut a pretty line across the southern horizon, the hills roll and bump softly into one another, and narrow country lanes wander through field, forest, and vineyard between beautiful old stone-built towns perched over rushing streams and rivers. Is it any wonder that the wines from this corner of southwest France feel so powerfully distinct, unlike any other wines of France, at once forgotten in the shadow of Bordeaux and preserved in amber for us to re-discover. In terms of sheer quality, these unobtrusive hills produce the finest white wines of France this side of the Loire, and the soulful Gros and Petit Manseng grapes are packed to the gills with personality. Domaine Nigri is the latest example to arrive in Oregon, and it’s another stunner. Their Pierre de Lune bottling offers a nose of grilled apricot, yellow apples, honeycomb, scotch broom, tangerine, rosemary, tarragon, savory, and a dash of hard Basque cheese. Like the most classic Jurancons, the Nigri is lush textured, creamy yet blazing bright with acidity. The base flavor of apricot comes with orange oil, preserved pears, smoky soil, bee pollen and a hint of vanilla that lingers cheerfully on the finish. Duck is certainly the most traditional food pairing, but we can see this wine next to Moroccan tagine with harissa spice.
“In these great and exceedingly rare wines of the Saar there is a combination of qualities which I can perhaps best describe as indescribable - austerity coupled with delicacy and extreme finesse.” - Frank Schoonmaker
I don’t think we’re going to do better describing this wine than Mr. Schoonmaker, the mid-20th century wine scholar, but we’ll try. The Petershof Riesling offers aromas of lime zest, key lime pie with the crust on, Rainier cherry, green apple, and honeydew melon. The palate is a live wire, delicate and crisp as the King’s linen, playful but deceptively powerful like something composed by Mozart. For flavors, we get lime and papaya, star fruit, rose-scented turkish delight and the Mosel’s slate soil signature. There is a touch of residual sugar in here so the wine won’t melt your teeth, but the finish is utterly dry and crisp and mouth watering bright.