The Kientzler boys have done it again! Domaine Kientzler is a habitual feature in our newsletter, because Thierry and Eric Kientzler have a nose for making utterly pitch perfect wine so persuasively Alsatian that if you hold the glass up to the window, you can almost make out the half-timbered houses of Ribeauvillé in the reflection. This Pinot Gris is drawn from vines in various plots in their Domaine averaging 35 years old, and the aroma is the Platonic ideal of Pinot Gris. Pear, mirabelle plum, white cherry and lilacs waft lazily out of the glass, a dusting of minerality suggests limestone soil but does not insist on it. Like a classic Pinot Gris, the palate is lush, coating, and flavorful, bouncing between orange peels, tangerine, lychee, and mineral earth. There’s just enough acidity to keep the band marching all in the same direction before a long, simmering floral finish. Dry, but not aggressively so. Rich, but not overwhelmingly so. We can’t think of a better way to dip into autumn Squash Risotto season than with this bottle.
The Catarratto grape accounts for more than half of all the vines in Sicily, but most of it is used to produce Marsala, or neutral bulk wines. One theory for the name is that it refers to the “cataract” of juice that these highly productive vines can produce. However, careful viticulture in the right sort of vineyards - high elevation, sandy soils - can yield better results. The Vesco family of Normanno makes organic wines from indigenous grapes near the western town of Alcamo, and winemaker Eric Narioo - famous for his Vino di Anna wines - has a reputation for elevating the humble Catarratto grape. Sicily as a whole is working hard to escape from its typecast role as a source of low quality bulk wine, and this winery is one of the leaders of the charge. After harvesting the grapes for the Ciello Bianco, the wine is left on the skins for a few hours to let more intense and complex flavors set. The wine offers up a full bodied nose of roasted peaches, lemon, tangerine, lavender, dusty earth and salt. The palate is juicy and crisp, with more peach, pineapple, and a zesty, mouthwatering finish. This is an excellent match for octopus, creamy seafood pasta, or pan seared fish dishes.
There is an argument that Nebbiolo is at its best when it is light, airy, and joyously fresh. Poderi Cellario’s Langhe Nebbiolo is a point in favor of this view, a wine so vibrant it seems to provide its own light in the glass, and notes of fresh black cherry, anise, red rose and orange peel lift in a cloud out of the glass. There is another argument that Nebbiolo’s greatest trick is to offer such an ethereal bouquet, then follow up with a tensely structured palate. Poderi Cellario’s Langhe Nebbiolo offers a touch of this too, silky at first with orange and strawberry fruit, before a gentle yet firm grip of tannins arrives on the finish with notes of underbrush, clay-scented earth, and dried orange peel. The freshness of the wine comes from gentle pressing and aging in entirely neutral, large oak botti that don’t influence the flavor of the wine. This is a wine that feels and tastes like a small batch, family farmed, naturally tended product, and for the most part it is, but Fausto and Cinzia Cellario actually make pretty big batches of wine. They make more than 20 kinds of wine in Piedmont from vineyards scattered throughout the Langhe. They tend each vine organically and never add yeast, yet all of Poderi Cellario’s many wines offer great value and true varietal character.
Frappato grapes ripen to a shade of purplish-blue so intense they almost glow. That deep color comes through in the wine too, a vivid shade that mirrors the wine’s powerful fruit aromas and flavor. While most Frappato grows under the heavy Sicilian sun, the wines made from it are generally light, buoyant, and friendly. Gebbia, based in the Sicilian town of Alcamo, is dedicated to indigenous varieties, and winemaker Vito Lauria works to bring out the best, purest expression of all his wines. The family estate is farmed organically, and the winemaking is unadorned, with a gentle press, a cool fermentation to preserve freshness, and eight months age in concrete. Thus, Frappato’s essential nature shines out of this glass. Aromas of inky black plum, blueberry, fig, violet, and peppercorn. The palate is rich yet appealingly soft and vibrant, bursting with fruit leather notes, orange oil, and tamarind. Tannins make a late appearance on the finish, coloring in around lingering notes of dried fruits. This wine lends itself to fall cuisine in the same way Beaujolais does, powerfully flavored without being overbearing, and a versatile match for turkey or quiche.
There are ten Beaujolais Crus, a number that has not changed since 1988 when Régnié was promoted. The village of Lantignié is just uphill from Régnié, on a south-facing slope overlooking the valley cut by the Ardière river. Lantignié will soon be Beaujolais’ eleventh cru, because as satisfying as round numbers are, the wine here is just too good to deny. A number of talented growers own plots here, among them Mathieu and Chantal Rochette, heirs to at least six generations of winemaking (they suspect it goes even further back but there’s no paperwork). They make wine traditionally from several crus of Beaujolais, and try hard in each case to let the terroir shine through, with their focus on finesse and elegance. The Lantignié comes from the village’s granite soils and offers up plenty of minerality. Aromas of dried leaves and black cherries, strawberries and wintergreen and bayleaf. The palate is full bodied and silky textured, with limestone-infused clay, freshly squeezed cherries, cinnamon, dried herbs and worked earth. This is a picture perfect wine to set next to autumnal stews, risottos, and meals that used to fly.
Emile Balland’s estate includes a little bit of Sancerre, but eight of his nine hectares are in the Coteaux du Giennois on the other side of the river, a long riverside strip of mixed vineyards and farmland south of the town of Gien, and the most northerly of the Sauvignon Blanc dedicated appellations in this western quarter of the Loire. Emile farms organically and intervenes as little as possible, so his wines show off the shimmering energy native to the limestone soil. The Beaux Jours cuvée - in rainy vintages, Emile calls this cuvée ‘Attendent les Beaux Jours - starts with fresh, rambunctious aromas of pepperoncini, orange zest, lemon curd, and rosemary. The palate is medium bodied with notes of meyer lemon, wild strawberry, salt and pepper. The acidity is bracing and neatly cleans up after all the fun of the mid-palate, leaving behind fresh herbs and citrus on the finish. Classic Loire Sauvignon Blanc for under $20 is increasingly hard to find. We’re lucky to have this one.
In the middle of Languedoc’s broad landscape of rich, savory reds and lush, oily whites, there is an island of salty white wine around the town of Pinet, not too far from Montpellier. Picpoul is grape of choice there, favored for its acidity, freshness, and ability to capture a teaspoon of Mediterranean salt in every glass. Les Vignerons de Florensac make this charming Picpoul in the classic style of the region, with a touch of extra lees contact to add some extra heft to the wine. The nose is of salted orange, lemon, granite minerality, wintergreen, pineapple and coconut. The palate doesn’t taste entirely unlike Orangina, though there’s extra salt - fancy salt that comes in a small jar with a cork - and a strong creamy, leesy note to balance the exuberant acidity. Picpoul is commonly thought of as the Muscadet of the Mediterranean, and it works alongside much of the same menu. Seafood with fins or shells, lighter savory salads, or larb would all be appropriate.
Rosalie Molina and her husband Manolo Garrote founded Altolandon in 1998 with a mission to make more distinct wine from La Mancha, far better known for its windmills than its wine. They bought a small estate in the town of Landete, near Cuenca and about halfway between Madrid and Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Planted in a mix of soils at over 1100 meters elevation, Altolandon’s vineyards lend themselves easily to organic viticulture, with the cool wind and cold nights keeping away all the disease pressure of low elevation regions. Manchuela lives in the border region between the lowlands of Valencia and the highlands of La Mancha, and the Bobal grape is at home here. Thick skinned and full of the anthocyanin that gives wine deep color, Bobal is only recently getting attention as varietal wines. Altolandon’s version is gently handled, with just 4 months in used oak before bottling. Fresh aromas of red cherry, orange peel, peach pit, prune, sage, brown earth and saffron. The palate is silky and medium bodied, with chalky tannins wrapped around dew kissed cherries, underbrush, and bitter herbs. Fruit lingers on the finish. Serve this sappy, delicious wine with Paella.
Ghvinos Anbani - Wine Alphabet in Georgian - is the work of four friends, Mamuka, Amiran, Giorgi, and Giorgi, who wanted to return to the roots of Georgian winemaking tradition. In Georgia, those are deep roots that extend further back than written history. This tiny valley tucked under the eaves of the 17,000 foot Caucasus Mountains is where wine comes from. Before Rome and Greece, before Babylon and Ur, there were people here fermenting grapes in buried clay vessels, eight thousand years ago. It is a history Georgians are struggling to inherit after a century of Soviet occupation that was strongly antipathetic towards this sort of tradition. If this wine here is any indication, it’s a history worth preserving. This strong and natural amber wine was fermented in traditional clay Qvevri for six months before bottling, a simple but effective method to produce stable, rich, and flavorful wine naturally. The native Krakhuna grape offers up a whole new world of aromas: candied ginger, toasted hazelnut butter, pineapple, cinnamon applesauce, and vanilla bean. The palate is full, with velvety tannin, lemon cake and nutty-crusted apple pie notes before a finishing kick of pepper. For best results, serve at red wine temperature.
Spain’s Catalan coast rises straight into the Penedes Mountain range, a rugged range that offers a rich tapestry of microclimates for vignerons to make almost any style of wine they desire. One of the most dramatic pinnacles of the range is the Massif de Montsant. This is the mountain that protects Priorat under its lee, but it also has vineyards on its flanks exposed to the wind, in a wide variety of mineral rich soil types. Here, a lighter, more elegant sort of wine springs. The Sindicat la Figuera’s Garnaxta vines are planted at almost 2,000 feet, untrained gobelet vines up to 80 years old. The wine they produce is a study in savory elegance. A spicy nose offers pepper and tarry earth, with raspberry and blackberry fruit leather, tarragon, oregano, sage, and burnt orange peel. The palate is medium in weight but full of expression - dark fruits, smoky clay earth, orange oil, and a finishing kick of black pepper spice, all supported by firm but not chunky tannin. This is a wine with unusual balance that will do wonders for a wide range of pan seared pork dishes and polenta based meals.
The Tenuta Migliavacca is a farm. The name translates to ‘home of a thousand cows’. In reality, they have about fifty cows, but they do have several thousand vines in the northern part of the Monferrato hills overlooking the Po River. The majority of their vines are Barbera, the most common variety here, and their vines have been tended biodynamically since the 1964, when Luigi Brezza made the choice to convert out of concern for the safety of his vineyard workers. Today, Francesco Brezza makes the wine naturally, and aims for balanced, savory wines with judicious use of only neutral, only large oak barrels. The result is a wine that is unmistakably Barbera, but with a twist. Aromas of rosewater pastille, dried cherry, hay bale, anise, and a rustic earthy note. On the palate, there is rhubarb, raspberry, and tart cranberry amidst the chalky, dusty tannins. Like all Italian wines but especially this one, this is best with a meal. Hearty mushroom dishes, pastas featuring beef, or a salty lentil soup.
In the Transylvanian village of Beltiug, there was a vineyard with no one to tend it and no one to make the grapes into wine. Edgar Brutler and his family were the only winemakers available, and they arranged to create a new wine label to save these old vines, a broad selection of native Romanian white vines and two red transplants, Pinot Noir and Syrah. They practice organic farming and natural winemaking with careful attention to detail, a style they call “Old-school avant-garde”. In this rugged, rainy landscape in Romania’s northern corner the degree of difficulty is pretty high for what they’re doing, but they’ve pulled it off with aplomb in this fresh, liter-sized bottle of bright red fruity wine. The nose offers cranberry, tangerine, wet clay and lemon pepper. The palate breezy, juicy, and easy to drink with crunchy raspberries and cranberries and just a touch of pepper on the finish. Perfect for chicken dishes seasoned with paprika or warm meatball soups.
Daniel and Jonas Brand are on the razor’s edge of viticulture in the northern Pfalz. Based in the unpretentious village of Bockenheim far away from the fancier estates of Mittelhaardt, the Brand brothers were free to chart their own course. Starting in 2014 when Jonas joined the team, they transitioned the winery to organic viticulture, and today the vineyards teem with life; plants grow high between the rows and flowers bloom through the trellising wires. If their vineyards look wild and energetic, that conveys through to the wines as well. This blend of 85% Chardonnay with 15% Riesling is one of the most intensely acidic wines of the year, filled with lemon, lime zest and kumquat, green apple and limestone dust, with a faint floral accent that drifts off the finish. This is a wine as refreshing as they come, and belongs on the table next to ceviche, sashimi, or sauerkraut with sausages.
One day, several months ago, I was talking to an Oregon winemaker about Chenin Blanc. I asked him why there wasn’t more Chenin Blanc in Oregon, since it seemed such a natural, cool climate fit. He replied that he could not “in good conscience” ask any more growers in Oregon to plant Chenin Blanc, because it’s such a difficult grape to grow - especially in the cold climates that bring out the grape’s best qualities. The climate in Anjou is startlingly similar to that of the Willamette Valley. With this in mind it’s something of a miracle - or says something important about the mindset of French vignerons - that so much of the Loire Valley is dedicated to Chenin Blanc. Quart de Chaume lies in the heart of the Loire, where the Chateau de Suronde is surrounded by its Demeter certified vineyard, and like so many other wineries along the course of the river, they work a little magic each year to get Chenin Blanc grapes ripe enough to make wine. L’Equisse offers the classic aroma of peach, yellow apple and preserved lemon, with a hint of crème fraîche and chalky soil. The palate has Chenin’s signature tension, lightly creamy but buzzing with acidity, Anjou pear and apple flavors with a clean cut finish. This wine is at its best with midweight dishes like chicken or sea bass.
One day, while walking in the foothills of the Majella mountains of Abruzzo, the wine merchant Ricardo Tiberio happened upon a plot of 60 year old Trebbiano vines that had gone essentially wild. He sensed something special about them, and after several years of planning, purchased the vineyard in 2000 alongside another thirty or so hectares of suitable vineyard land. Together with his children Christiana and Antonio, they proceeded to make a wine that questioned everything we thought we knew about this “low quality” grape. The Fonte Canale wine they first made in 2004 hit the wine world like a meteor, a wine with so much power, aromatic loft, and mineral-crusted depth that it belonged in conversation next to the greatest white wines in the world. That wine remains the flagship of their winery and the finest wine made in Abruzzo, but the Tiberio family makes some excellent wine with the rest of their property too. For all their Trebbianos, they use the native Trebbiano Abruzzese clone, instead of the invasive Trebbiano Toscana or Bambino. That famous mineral intensity is apparent, a salty, flinty soil note wrapped around preserved lemon and peach pit with some rosemary for good measure. The wine is deep, a full bodied white with lemon and peach and creamy texture, brilliant acidity and a hint of almond on the finish. A versatile match for seafood.
There are few Oregon Pinot Noirs that offer as much deliciousness per dime as the McKinlay Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Winemaker Matt Kinne’s great grandfather George Angus McKinlay farmed fruit and nuts in the Willamette Valley, and today Matt’s wines are made with about the same level of fanfare as the annual filbert crop had in the early 1900s. Despite the low-key nature of the operation, McKinlay has a dedicated fan club that includes Liner & Elsen, because each vintage, this Pinot Noir outperforms far more expensive wines from more famous and expensive names. The 2022 vintage is another notch in a very long belt, with an appealing nose of ripe black cherry, black raspberry, a touch of underbrush, black rose allspice, clay, orange and cranberry. Light yet palate staining, the wine is silky and filled with fresh picked berries, dried leaves and cinnamon. As a signal of good things to come with the 2022 vintage, we’re excited enough to offer this charmer to kick off the first fall dinners featuring roasted veggies, stews, and risottos.