Everywhere wine grapes are grown, there are treasured local varieties, indigenous to and inseparable from their homeland. The red Kadarka grape is possibly the most Hungarian variety there is, and the Heimann family in the southern-Hungarian appellation of Szekszard has been working for generations to rescue it from the brink of Communist-state-sponsered eradication. Their efforts have led to this rambunctious charmer, with a nose of wild cherry, wilder raspberry, cranberries, rhubarb, tangerine, and a breath of chalky soil. Heimann Zoltan’s delicate and mostly-hands-off winemaking comes through on the filigree palate as clear and delicately textured as a sunset over a mountain lake. Flavors of strawberry, cherry cordial, lavender, and toasted orange peel come lightly dusted with loamy earth, all woven through the impossibly fine, juicy textured wine, as zesty as any but never sharp, and the finish echoes with red and black fruit. This wine is a willing partner to sturdy open-top stews and rich meats, things that used to fly, or earthier dals, but no food is strictly needed to enjoy it.
Gönc Stajerska Rose Cuvee Anna 2022 $18
When it comes to wine, Slovenia is small but mighty. This tiny collection of rugged mountains and misty forested valleys somehow supports 2500 wineries with a population just over two million, which means roughly one out of every 800 Slovenians is a winemaker, a rate far higher than in Italy or France. Slovenia is inching its way into the culinary spotlight thanks to the work of chefs like Ana Ros and Janez Bretovz, and right alongside comes the wine. This one is made by Peter Gönc, an iconoclast, music lover, and winemaker, in no particular order, and his wines take no detours or shortcuts. When he makes red wine it is inky and tannic. When he makes white it is rich like tropical fruit punch. When he makes rose like this Cuvee Anna – a blend of the local Zametna Crnina grape with a help from Pinot Noir and Blaufrankish – it makes your hair stand on end with electricity. If the aroma was a sound it would leave your ears ringing with ruby red grapefruit, white strawberry, raspberry, pear, flint, sandstone and orange bitters. The palate comes through with the same energy. Salt crusted stones and peach pit, Rainier cherry and grapefruit, lavender and cantaloupe and apple blossoms that sing the body electric. Pair this with shellfish or Moroccan tagine, but whatever you do, make sure the meal has a strong enough personality to handle this wine.
Kobal Stajerska Slovenia Furmint-Sipon Roots 2022 $23
In eastern Slovenia, the countryside is made of picturesque green hills and sun-drenched farmland. The vineyards of this inland region look similar to the Austrian and Hungarian vineyards just a little bit to the north and east, and that is why Kobal has rows planted to Furmint, the national treasure of Hungary. There’s no mistaking this for Hungarian wine though, because Kobal is a proud advocate of skin-contact white wine, the signature style of Slovenia. In this case it’s only a couple days, but that’s enough to impart an extra layer of texture, and to draw out and accentuate Furmint’s supply of exotic spices. The nose shows a strong note of candied ginger, with pineapple, melon, apple, szechuan pepper, fleur de sel and basalt-tinted minerality. The palate is lean and focused, sizzling with acidity the way Furmint wines always do, and a talc-like dusting of tannin to frame a rush of apple, pear, and salty minerality that gives way to a crisp, delicious finishing impression of orange sherbet with a dash of pepper. A bright and invigorating wine with impressive nuance, put this together with rich polenta recipes, sausage, or the traditional Slovenian dumpling Idrijski Zlikrofi.
Domaine de Grisy Bourgogne Cote d’Auxerre Rouge 2021 $22
Auxerre today is a sleepy little city on the banks of the Yonne river, just a few miles west of Chablis. The town skyline is defined by the Cathedral Saint Etienne d’Auxerre, a hint to the town’s former prominence in the region as the last major stop on the route from Burgundy to Paris and a well-known source for Pinot Noir. With the advent of railroads diminishing the importance of river trade, Auxerre’s vineyards waned in importance until the region was relegated to Bourgogne Rouge status in the mid 20th century. But the vineyards are still there, and a few dedicated producers have maintained the high standards of this once proud region. Pascal Sorin’s family has been making wine at Domaine de Grisy for 18 generations and today, he farms organically and makes wine simply, to avoid covering up the delicate nature of this cold-climate Pinot Noir. This is a high-toned red that gets its power from energy rather than mass, and it offers impressive complexity. The wine starts with aromas of raspberry, cranberry, cinnamon stick, rose petal, and smoked orange peel, The palate is silky and seamless, with a touch of underbrush and clay alongside precocious notes of strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, and lemon drop. Talc-like tannins, limestone minerality, and fresh acidity carry the finish along much longer than expected. A versatile food wine for lighter summer fare.
Chateau Maylandie Corbieres Rouge Le Cabanon 2022 $14
Corbieres is in many ways the most emblematic wine region of Languedoc. It’s a large area, with vineyards planted among rugged countryside that turns slowly into Pyrenean foothills as you travel south. Cute villages like Ferrals-les-Corbieres sit astride streams on their way to join the Aude river, and these villages usually contain small family run estates like Chateau Maylandie, who charmingly invite you to visit, buy their wine and other local products, “honeys, olives, naturally sweet wines, beers, creams, tinned foods, etc.”, and take a walk through their vineyards. The wine they make is just as charming, rustic, and honest, a classic Corbieres blend of Carignan (70%) and Cinsault (30%) that shows the earthiest, darkest red version of the area’s wine. The nose shows blackcurrant fruit with notes of coffee, licorice, cacao, bitter black chocolate, tilled clay earth, corn nuts and lavender. The palate is full bodied, with more blackcurrant, black chocolate, and inky black dirt, with tar, tamarind, and black vinegar notes finding room amongst sturdy tannins. This is an everyday wine that demands hearty fare like steak or roast beef.
Boccadigabbia Colli Maceratesi Ribona 2021 $16
Boccadigabbia is super fun to say. BOCCah-dee-GABB-ee-ahh trips merrily over the palate, just like this fascinating rare white Ribona. The grape is so particular to the Colli Maceratesi hills that rise just a couple miles from the Adriatic coast that another name for this grape is Maceratino. Why a grape that only grows in one place needs two names is anyone's guess, but it’s a delicious wine with a nose of ripe peach, apricot, and orange fruit accompanied by petrichor (the scent of the air after a fresh rain) and wet stone. The palate offers zesty citrus and juicy peach fruit, a touch of spice, and a breezy, salty note woven in by the nearby Adriatic sea. The winemakers use Cryomaceration to maximize the intense fruit notes, a technique where fresh picked grapes are frozen before pressing to weaken the cell structures in the grapes, so they release significantly more color and flavor. For students of history, the Boccadigabbia estate has a curious place in history, as it was founded in 1808, when the Marche was a French possession during the Napoleanic era. It was run according to French agricultural methods and remained a personal possession of Napoleon’s descendants until 1956, when Mariano Allesandri purchased it from Napoleon's last surviving heir, Luigi Napoleone Bonaparte.
You may not have heard much about Valencian wine, but the traditions here run just as deep as in Rioja or Galicia. In 1995, Pablo Calatayud founded the Celler del Roure in an ancient winemaking facility filled with amphorae of all sizes from simple clay pots to large tanks built into the walls of the underground cellar and connected by stone carved channels. It stood as something of a museum of winemaking for several years, but Pablo got curious. The Celler’s mission was to highlight traditional Valencian varieties like Mandó, Tortosino, Verdil, and Merseguera that were unknown elsewhere. Using traditional Valencia winemaking tools became a natural extension of the project, and today all those amphorae are put to work making wines that show these varieties at their best. The Cullerot Blanco is made of Pedro Ximénez, Macabeo, Tortosina, Malvasía, Verdil, Merseguera, and others in small amounts. The wine is low in alcohol, with aromas of apple, pear, and white plum, with honeysuckle, lime juice, and a sandy soil note. The palate shows fleshy texture, fresh lemon, herbs, and salty notes with toe curling acidity that relaxes into a lingering finish accented with a hint of cream and orange oil. It’s a stunning wine from a surprising source, and suitable for the sort of Mediterranean seafood dishes you would find in Valencia.
Michel Delhommeau Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Cuvee Saint Vincent 2014 $16
Michel Delhommeau’s Muscadet is distinct from many neighboring Muscadet producers, as his vines grow out of Gabbro soil, an especially pure form of lava that has cooled into pure crystalline form, very different from the limestone that much of Muscadet grows in. Vines that grow on gabbro soil struggle to dig into the hard rock, but once there find an abundance of mineral nutrients to draw into their grapes. Michel Delhommeau uses no oak in the cellar and disturbs the wine as little as possible while it rests on the lees for six months before bottling. For the Cuvee St Vincent, the Delhommeaus hold back some of the wine to release much later, so we get to see Muscadet’s secret super power. This is one of the most age-worthy white wines in the world, and after 9 years, the 2014 edition offers a rich nose of pear, lime, salty seabreeze, floral whipped cream and lemon. The palate is still crisp, creamy, and well defined with notes of baked pear and lemon curd with yellow rose petals, white pepper, and a strong vein of Atlantic salt running through. A classic Muscadet that has only improved with age, adding subtlety and definition without losing any of its youthful zip and zest. Pair with oysters, clams, or scallops.
Cantina Morone Benevento Falanghina Monaci 2021 $20
Falanghina is a tantalizing grape variety. It has been planted in Campania for at least 2700 years, and for most of that time it was considered Campania’s finest grape variety, but time and fashion have been unkind to this noble variety. For decades, the grape has been turned into cheap bulk wine that offers a reliable scoop of mango but not much else, and other Campanian grapes have all taken their turn in the spotlight. In the picturesque village of Guardia Sanframondi, Pasquale and Maria Morone remember what Falanghina is really about. Together with their children Giovanni and Eleonora, they make it the right way, working by hand in the vineyard and without any chemical intervention in the winery. The result is awe-inspiring, and perhaps the finest Falanghina this reviewer has ever tasted. The wine opens with aromas of lemongrass and lime leaf, tangerine and pear and orange blossom and lemon zest. There’s basalt and flint and a whiff of lanolin. The palate has that rich texture Falanghina is famous for, but it comes fresh and salty, with a dash of white pepper together with orange and mango, all clean and vivid thanks to high acidity. If this is the future of Falanghina, count us in!
Sclavos Cephalonia White Alchymiste 2021 $14
Vladis Sclavos is still a relatively rare sort of winemaker in Greece. In a country where large wineries of indifferent quality have long dominated the scene, Sclavos farms his tiny vineyard biodynamically and intervenes as little as possible during production. His vineyards are a polyculture, intermixed with patches of wood, olive groves, and other sorts of agriculture. In a country where international varieties are often chosen to blend with native Greek varieties to make them more familiar to Americans, Sclavos works only with native varieties. The Alchymiste white is a blend of Tsaousi, Moscat, Vostilidi, and Moschatela, Grapes native to Greece, and in the case of Tsaousi, native specifically to Cephalonia. The nose offers pear, apricot, kumquat, lemon drop and candied pineapple, with savory herbs like bay leaf and oregano. The palate shows off Vladis’ skill in preserving acidity under the Mediterranean sun; the wine is velvety smooth and full of fresh apricot, orange, and kiwi fruit that finishes with a crisp burst of salty acidity and leaves behind the memory of orange blossoms by the sea. This wine pairs perfectly to salads featuring arugula, seafood that spends a few seconds on the grill, or Tzatziki.
Domaine les Fines Graves Chenas 2021 $23
Chenas is often overlooked among the Crus of Beaujolais. It’s the oldest cru, and at one time it was the most esteemed of all, but over time the louder crus of Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent surpassed Chenas in fame, and Moulin-a-Vent annexed many of Chenas’ southern vineyards for good measure. This is a shame, because in our opinion, no Beaujolais cru truly soars like great Chenas. The late Jacky Janodet established the Domaine les Fines Graves a generation ago, with holdings in both Chenas and Moulin-a-Vent. Now under the guidance of his wife Evelyne and son Jerome, Les Fines Graves is one of the great secrets of northern Beaujolais. This Chenas offers an unmistakable aromatic note of gravel for which the domaine is named, alongside fresh cherries, boysenberry, marionberry, tangerine, white pepper, and freshly snuffed juniper-scented candle. The palate takes flight, impossibly silky in a way only Chenas quite gets, Fruit is the sort of red you get on album covers from the psychedelic 70s; raspberry and cherry and cranberry with a touch of citrus. After a few sips, the delicate tannins layer over the palate and help the flavors stick the finish, which lingers neatly with a touch of cherry pit. This is simply spectacular Beaujolais, and a must try for lovers of elegant red wines.
Olabarri Rioja Crianza 2018 $16
“An attractive wine, for anyone, for any occasion.” Bodegas Olabarri’s own description of this wine neatly sums up its easy and delicious character. This is the sort of wine that knows it’s not the main character. The Olabarri Crianza is intended to accompany a good meal or or a good conversation, but not to intrude on either. This principle has been at the heart of Olabarri since 1985, when Pablo Olabarri Bikandi founded the winery to make elegant, accessible wines without pretense. While Olabarri’s Reserva and Gran Reserva Riojas certainly qualify as incredible value, the Crianza is closest to the winery’s mission. The grapes are drawn from vineyards next to the winery on the outskirts of Haro, and the wine spends a year in barrel and a year in bottle before release. Aromas of cinnamon, plum and blackberry with a touch of tobacco and vanilla. Fresh acidity and silky tannins frame a palate with strong oak influences – both cinnamon from the French Oak and vanilla from the American – with spicy black cherry, leather, and pipe smoke that lingers through the finish. The wine has enough structure to last several years in the cellar, but at heart it’s a wine to enjoy while you wait for the more serious wines to mature.
Rezabal Getariako Txakolina Rose 2022 $17
The concept of terroir from the European perspective extends beyond questions of soil, weather, and site. There is an underlying assumption that wines reflect the character and culture of the regions they come from. When you have a glass of Rezabal’s Txakoli rose in your hand this idea takes physical form. The village of Getaria sits at the ocean’s edge, at the head of a tiny valley that produces most of Basque country’s iconic Txakoli. Just a short drive to the east is the seaside city of San Sebastian, the cultural heart Basque country. Beautiful, Brisk, salty, energetic, full of fresh food and fresh ideas about how to eat it, San Sebastian – or Donostia in Euskera – is firmly rooted in an ancient tradition, but always reaches outward to the world. The local wine is the same. Some trapped CO2 gives it a light fizzy sensation, and aromas of fresh strawberries, cranberries, and farmers market herbs all dusted with seabreeze saltiness. The palate is sharp and filled with nervous energy, flavors of cherry, strawberry and watermelon, with salinity and minerals for days. The finish is crisp and bursting with acidity, inviting – in true Basque fashion – another bite of your pintxo.
Chateau de Fontenille Bordeaux Rouge Passion 2020 $15
The Chaterau de Fontenille is a relatively humble house in the Entre Deux Mers region of Bordeaux, miles away from the imposing estate houses of the left bank. This is where most of Bordeaux’s best value wines come from, hearty reds and aromatic whites without all the fuss. Fontenille’s history dates back to the 13th century, when the vineyards were planted by monks from the nearby Abbaye de la Sauve Majeure. Four parts Merlot and one part Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine comes from grapes grown on a mix of soils including clay, sand and gravel. At the winery, the winemakers have balance in mind, using a mixture of oak and stainless steel to maintain the grape’s fruity and approachable character. Notes of black plum, blackcurrant, sandalwood, baker’s chocolate, allspice and sandalwood define the nose, while the palate follows with further touches of deep black cherry and currant, underbrush, and clay-lined earth. The tannins are stern and muscular, up to the task of holding in this full bodied, high octane wine. Dark fruit, chocolate, and earthy accents fill out the finish. This wine will do best next to rich cheeses, foie gras, and thoughtfully composed hamburgers.
Filipa Pato Bairrada Branco Dinamica 2021 $19
A wine so nice, we’ve featured it twice! The new 2021 vintage of Filipa Pato’s unrivaled Bairrada Branco just landed, and we simply couldn’t wait to feature it again. Filipa Pato is the latest winemaker of the famous Pato family and probably the best winemaker in the coastal Portuguese region of Bairrada. Among her dozens of wines, including several side projects, the simple entry tier Dinamica label is perhaps the most purely fun, a jazzy introduction to the native varieties of the region. Make no mistake, this is still a shockingly complex wine. An even blend of local favorites Arinto and Bical – two grapes known for their high acidity – this Branco starts with notes of gravenstein apple, peach pit, meyer lemon, candied orange peel and salt. The palate offers apples and pears, lemon curd and lime peel, and a strong mineral streak that gives this lean-yet-substantial wine angular definition. Refreshing and bright on the finish, this wine demands tinned fish, shrimp with chimichurri, or ceviche. Whatever you’re preparing, think fresh and briny, and this wine will sing.
La Patience Languedoc Vin Rose 2021 $15
There is an herb in Languedoc that grows wild called La Patience. Where the name comes from is a story lost to history, but the herb remains peppered across the landscape together with lavender, sage, tarragon and so many others that make Languedoc such a distinctly aromatic landscape. Christophe Aguilar’s family domaine is named for this herb that grows throughout their organic vineyards. While he makes a range of wines under the Gard and Costieres de Nimes labels, this cheerful and breezy rose might be our favorite, and whether it’s Christophe, the Grenache and Cinsault grapes, or that wild herb running around the vines, this rose is incredibly complex for such a seemingly simple and quaffable wine. A nose of wild strawberry and white peach, with nectarine, lavender, laurel leaf, sage, tarragon, and white pepper notes leads to a silky palate of strawberry, peach, lemon, and lime. Savory herbs reappear on the finish with white pepper, laurel and sage that leave on the finish hand in hand with fruits like a spring breeze.