January 2024 Newsletter


Vignoble Guillaume Vin de Pays de Franche Comte Chardonnay 2022 $17


The Franche Comté is tucked neatly between Burgundy, Alsace, and Savoie, but produces almost no wine of its own. Vignoble Guillaume is a notable exception, a domaine planted on limestone marl similar to Burgundy in 1732 to provide wine to the Archbishop of Besançon. The vineyard’s main claim to fame – and still their primary business – is their nursery. While Phylloxera rampaged through the vineyards of Europe, the Guillaume family had the bright idea to save vines from across Europe and keep them alive in their nursery until the solution for the pest was found. They never did stop making their own wine, which is a good thing, because Xavier Guillaume’s organically farmed rendition of Chardonnay is sublime. A note lighter and crisper than Burgundy, this one starts with aromas of pineapple, mango, preserved lemon, shortbread, and olive brine. On the palate, we get kiss melon and canned peaches and candied ginger, all delicious and fresh, with a hint of that creaminess that marks Chardonnay. Open up a seafood cookbook; it doesn’t matter which page.



Domaine Vaquer Cotes du Roussillon Cuvée Bernard 2021 $19


The Roussillon Renaissance is in full swing, but as we rush to anoint newcomers like Roc des Anges, Danjou Bannessy, and La Bancale, it’s important to note that there have always been certain vignerons in Roussillon making a more elegant style of wine – pinotent, or ‘resembling Pinot Noir’. Domaine Vaquer traces back to Pierre Vila, who purchased this vineyard just outside Banyuls in the gently rising foothills of the Pyrenees. His son-in-law Fernand Vaquer was a national rugby champion who “helped a bit in the vineyards”, but his son Fernand Jr. decided to stick with the wine gig. Today, the domaine is in the hands of Frédérique Vaquer, and this charming cuvée of Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah is named for her late husband, Bernard. The nose has plenty of Mediterranean warmth to offer, with notes of deep black cherry fruit leather, dark roast coffee, and iron-streaked soil. On the palate, a jolt of acid streaks across the field, showing raspberry and red cherry, crumbled earth and garrigue, hibiscus infused black tea tannins gather on the finish and leave a finish of flowers and savory spice. Serve with Catalan Charcouterie and grilled meats.



Altre Vie Roero Arneis Anfora 2022 $19


In March of last year, we featured the 2021 vintage of this Roero Arneis from Gianluca Colombo. We’re pleased to report that the rising star winemaker did not forget how to make wine in 2022. His approach to winemaking is near dogmatic, and as gentle as possible. He works only with biodynamically farmed vines, and vinifies this Arneis in cement eggs to preserve every last drop of fruit character in the wine. As he puts it: “Only the vineyard, the vintage, and the grape should speak”, not the winemaker. Arneis can be a tricky grape; it’s prone to disease and sheds acidity quickly as it ripens, so vignerons have to be quick on the draw to preserve aromas like these: pear, apricot, and lemon zest with a touch of salted almond and honeysuckle. The Altre Vie really shines on the palate, fleshy apple and lemon juice reflecting sunlight. The core of acidity hums through notes of greengage plum, white cherry, and tarragon sprinkled on the finish. This is a wine with three-dimensional texture that would be perfect with Marcela Hazan’s Chicken with Two Lemons.



Algueira Ribera Sacra Godello Brandan 2022 $21


Mashed apples, oranges, lemons. Slate and pepper and Cardamom spice. These are the aromas bursting out the top of a glass of Algueira’s white Riberra Sacra. These are the aromas Godello produces in the uncanny steep, rocky, forest lined vineyards along the banks of the Sil River in Galicia. Rivers in Iberia have a habit of cutting canyons through the rock on their way to the Atlantic, and while this one is far wilder and less famous than the Douro, there’s an argument that the wine here is just as good – maybe better. Adega Algueira farms their vineyards organically and by hand, a necessity since several of their vineyards are so steep they can only be accessed by boat. This is the heartland of Godello, and the ancient, gnarled vines give the grapes layered texture, both fresh and deeply felt, silky with a thrumming baseline of acidity running through notes of gooseberry, lemon, and apple. This is a wine for exotically spiced poultry, rich freshwater fish, and charcuterie boards featuring hard Iberian cheeses and chorizo.



Bricco Carlina Vino Bianco La Riserva del Fondatore 2019 $17 from $22


Camilla and Francesco Scavino are brother and sister who grew up visiting their grandmother’s farm, Bricco Carlina. When they started their own winery in 2014, they named it in her honor. Seeking organically farmed grapes and using sulfur to stabilize wine only in the bitterest need, they make a range of wines from vineyards spread throughout Alba and Asti. For their estate grown Favorita, they leave the wine on grape skins for 12 days for a little extra oomph, then let the wine settle in steel tanks before bottling. Favorita is probably no one’s favorite grape, but it’s a charming variety related to both Vermentino and Pigato, and shares their distinctive yellow-to-green aromas and propensity to taste salty. The Reserva del Fondatore offers lemon whipped cream, orange zest, almond and peach on the nose. The palate is sharp with apple and lime and preserved lemon, all showing through in creamy textured wine that finishes with a pinch of salt. Fish in cream sauces or birds with crackling skin will both seem appropriate with this wine.



Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon Blanc 2021 $19


When Jean-Maurice Raffalut took over his centuries-old family Domaine in 1973, he ushered in a new era for all of Chinon. The region is today famous for single vineyard wines, but no one had thought to do that before him. His son Rodolphe inherited the Domaine in 1997, and he’s continued his father’s work, making intensely earthy Cabernet Franc from six named sites, alongside Chinon’s most pleasant surprise, the white Chenin Blanc. Chenin seems to be famous everywhere along the Loire River except here in the beating red-heart capital of Cabernet Franc country, but the same limestone clay soil that brings Cabernet Franc to life works for the white grape too. Aromas of pear, honeycomb, slate, toasted peach and applesauce arrive with just hint of clay – to remind us that we’re still in Chinon. The palate is sharp, full of acid and full bodied enough to contain it, along with flavors of Granny Smith apples, lilac, honeysuckle and pear. A delicious and versatile pair for most things from the sea.



Domaine Chiroulet Cotes de Gascogne Blanc 2022 $13


Domaine Chiroulet’s fifth generation winemaker says “A great wine is like a piece of music, the more notes there are, the more beautiful the symphony”, and he’s packed an astounding array of flavors and textures into this cheerfully affordable package. Domaine Chiroulet’s vineyards are planted atop one of the larger gently rolling hills of Armagnac country in Southwest France. Chiroula is local parlance for ‘whistling wind’, and the vines benefit from that natural ventilation in this sunny corner of France. Soils here are a mix of fine clay, limestone, and chalk, mineral rich soils that add zest to the white wines for which the domaine is best known. The Cepage of their flagship white cuvée is half Gros Manseng for body, almost half Sauvignon Blanc for aromas, and one tenth Ugni Blanc for acidity. The 2022 edition shows aromas of lemongrass, Meyer Lemon, gooseberry and passionfruit with a touch of basil and a hard edge of flint. Full bodied, full of fresh lemons and limes, the dusty limestone soil cuts through on the finish with a snap of acidity. The cuisine of Southwest France is notably rich, but this wine has the structure to handle it.



Quinta de Saes Dão Tinto 2018 $21


Just one mountain’s width away from the Douro River, The Dão remains firmly out of the limelight. To hear Alvaro and his daughter Maria Castro tell it, this is a mistake, because in their eyes looking out over the granite-laced vineyards of Quinta de Saes, this is the finest wine country in Iberia. The Dão is protected from heat to the east and north by mountains, and exposed to cool Atlantic air that manage to reach here about an hour’s drive from the shore. Despite the lack of company, Alvaro and Maria have made a name for themselves and the Dão with their resolutely local wine. Using only native grapes (One quarter each Touriga Naçional, Alfrocheiro, Jaen, and Tinta Pinheira) in large, used oak barrels, there’s no trace of the ‘international’ style that afflicts so much Portuguese wine. The nose is a font of Cassis, black cherry fruit leather, boysenberry, granite and cocoa. The palate is elegantly smooth and filled with all the fruits of the forest, a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange bitters. A dusting of stone minerality lingers on the finish. Bring this to any gathering where charcuterie is available, pork, or paella featuring chorizo or chicken.


Bortolusso Trevenezie Malvasia 2020 $13 from $21


Sergio and Clara Bortolusso’s vineyards look different from most Italian vineyards. There are no mountains bedight the horizon, no softly rolling hills made of clay marls. Instead, between Bortolusso’s rows of Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, and other native Friuli varieties, there are canals. Irrigation is not an issue here on the shores of the Marano Lagoon at the northern edge of the Adriatic Sea. Seagulls ride the salt-crusted wind overhead as the vines drink directly from the ocean in silty, gravelly soil. This is unique terroir, and every one of Bortolusso’s wines carries the unmistakable scent of the sea. This Malvasia is no exception, but it’s plenty exceptional, with a rare aromatic spectrum of waxy pear, sweet fern, allspice, pepper, licorice and sea salt. The palate shows great tension between Malvasia’s natural inclination towards full body set against fresh acidity, with flavors of pear and peach, mint, licorice and candied ginger. A great choice for gently spicy curries, fried fish, or mussels.



Le Piane Vino Rosso Maggiorina 2022 $23


Antonio Cerri was in his 80s and without an heir, one of the last winemakers capturing Boca’s ethereal scents of Nebbiolo, Croatia, and Vespolina in its most delicate form. A chance recommendation at a local restaurant led to two traveling winemakers, Christoph Kunzli and Alexander Tolf, tasting with Antonio at his winery in a tiny clearing in the forest. That tasting was enough for the pair to decide they would move here, beyond the edges of the known wine world, to save this property – and this once thriving denomination – from extinction. It took several years to gain Antonio’s trust and prove themselves up to the challenge, but their efforts were finally rewarded, and today we get to share in the reward, because this magical wine still exists. Organically farmed and naturally fermented, Le Piane’s wines seem to straddle the line between liquid and vapor, with brilliant aromas followed by clear-headed flavors of fresh berry fruit. In this entry-tier Maggiorina bottling, there’s black raspberry, marly clay, cherry cordial, black pepper, sage and tarragon. More cherry comes through on the palate with chalky tannins and peppery clay, with touches of rhubarb and raspberry on the finish. A fitting wine for delicate mushroom dishes, duck, or tender cuts of beef.



Cros des Calades Vin de France Azé 2022 $16


Cros des Calades is a new project from Benoit and Florence of Château de la Selve in Ardèche, France, both are farmed organically, and the wines are made naturally. Benoît, who is a charming fast-talker, headed straight into the vines waxing poetically in Franglais about this wild Ardechois terroir, arguably one of the least-tamed in France, planted to rocky, rolling hillsides and peppered between national parks featuring steep, swimmable river gorges where French adventure-seekers come for their summer holidays. In terms of wine, the Ardèche is akin to the Cotes du Rhone, but more fun. There’s far less pressure here to hit certain marks of ‘typicity’, so the region has fostered winemakers like Benoit and Florence who make something fundamentally new out of Grenache and Syrah. This Cuvee – named for the local name for a donkey – has scents of fresh blueberries and blackberries, a patch of bramble after rain, and potpourri. The palate is lighter than the customary Rhone wine, and bouncy. Full of energy and raspberry and blackberry fruit but with no sharpness. Touches of black pepper, menthol, and pine come with a gentle nip of tannin. For best results, pair to Cailletes Ardechois, or a charcuterie border featuring Tomme.



Domaine La Fourmone Gigondas Le Fauquet 2022 $21 from $26


Marie-Thérèse Combe, her daughter Florentine, and son, Albin are the latest stewards of La Fourmone, which has been in the family since 1910. With prime sites in the villages of Gigondas and Vacqueyras, the Domaine would have every right to chase high critical scores and the high prices that follow, but the family has a different philosophy. They converted to organic farming to increase the vitality of their land and make better wine. When they pick the grapes, ferment, and blend their cuvees, they look for “...the best top, heart and base notes so that our wines can express themselves”. In other words, complexity and finesse. Le Fauquet is fermented and aged in concrete and sees no oak before bottling. There’s no ‘makeup’ here, only the purest expression of the limestone soil of the Dentelles de Montmirail and grapes (a mixture of Grenache and Syrah). The result is a stunningly clear vision of the Rhone’s terroir. Bold and densely packed with black raspberry and pomegranate fruit, mint and garrigue and bay leaf and white soil, but the wine is never off balance. There’s tension here between acidity and tannin, plenty of power, but just as much restraint too. This is a wine for beef cheek, oyster mushrooms with garlic, or roast poultry.