February 2024 Newsletter Wines

 Domaine Pascal Aufranc Julienas Les Crots 2021 $21

Pascal Aufranc was a newcomer in Beaujolais when he purchased an old vineyard just outside the village of Chenas, a vineyard surrounded by forest. Without neighbors, and without a strong family tradition to lean on, Pascal had the freedom to establish his own organic and natural viticultural habits, and shortly became one of the top winemakers in the Cru. He has since expanded to Fleurie and Julienas, where he brings the same philosophy to 60 year old vines in an old cherry orchard. 2021 was a difficult year for winemakers in Beaujolais, but the grapes that did make it to press yielded beautifully balanced wine. Les Crots offers aromas of red cherry, orange peel, white pepper and all-spice. The palate has a touch of Julienas’ signature gravelly earth, with juicy cranberry and cherry notes woven together with light tannins. A citrus note lingers on the finish and prepares us for another bite of roast chicken or soft cheese.

 

Aix Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rose 2021 $10

There are times when wine piles up the warehouse. Sometimes very good wine suffers some sort of bad luck, or there’s a kink in the supply chain, and the price of that wine is set less by its quality and pedigree, and more by the square footage available to keep it. We know this sounds profoundly unromantic, but it does give us the welcome opportunity to offer this standout Provençal rose at half price. Maison Saint Aix is among the largest domaines in Provence, and their vineyards are among the highest in elevation at about 1400 feet above sea level. Everything at the domaine is done to preserve the freshness of the wine, and with the sublime 2021 vintage, the result was a pure, fruity wine with substantial minerality. Aromas of strawberry tart, white cherry, orange rind, lilac and quince lead into a palate with juicy texture, fruity flavor, and an edge of wet stone. While the extra year in bottle has added some weight to the wine the acidity remains undimmed and the finish is bright and zesty. An easy choice for brunches, charcuterie, and salads with aromatic herbs, stock up to enjoy this wine all year long.

La Raia Gavi Pleo 2022 $19

Gavi at its best is a fresh, easygoing white wine. Gavi at its very best is like this bottle from La Raia, fresh and easygoing as any but more substantial and complex than an ordinary porch sipper. In 2003, Giorgio Rossi Cairo purchased La Raia, and quickly converted the entire 180 hectare property to biodynamic farming. This is a full-service biodynamic farm, with pastures, orchards, and crops in addition to their grapes. Wine remains the most important part of the project, and they are known as one of the great estates of Gavi. In search of the most individual wine, the must is allowed to ferment without added yeast in cool stainless tanks, clean and carefully watched but without interference. Their Pleo cuvée may be their entry level wine, but there’s a lot going on in the glass. Lemon balm, orange and lime zest notes mix with oregano, sage, and salt. Light texture with acidity that’s clean and crisp but never sharp. Cheerful lemon and orange fruit with a touch of herbs that sneak in on the finish.

 

Fento Rias Baixas Albarino 2022 $20

Fento means Fern in Galician. These are a common site in the Rias Baixas region, where the cool, damp air carries a whiff of salt from the nearby Atlantic and nourishes ferns and vines alike. Zarate’s winemaker Eulogio Pomares and Rebeca Montero were both raised here among vineyards, and founded Fento in 2012 as a personal label in the Condado de Tea subzone, a relatively warm and dry quarter of Rias Baixas, where wines show a little more weight and fruit than normal. Drawn from numerous tiny vineyards in the region, Fento’s wines are made with no set standard winemaking. The high degree of vintage variation here demands a flexible approach to making wine. The 2022 edition opens with peach, apricot, ginger, and orange mango sorbet with a light salty touch. Winter weight texture with generous notes of apricot, orange, and plantain. Like any good Albarino, a touch of salt lingers on the finish. This is a great wine for rich seafood stews, shellfish, or lemony mushroom risottos.


Luigi Giordano Langhe Rosso 2022 $20

Luigi Giordano started bottling his family’s wine in 1958, one of the very first small producers in Barbaresco to do so. The family owns some of the best vineyards in Barbaresco, and since the beginning, Luigi’s wines have been on the delicate side of the spectrum. Even his single cru wines from Barbaresco’s great crus, Asili, Montestefano, and Cavanna. Today, Luigi’s daughter Laura and grandson Matteo carry on the tradition, and the house style is perhaps best expressed in this cheerfully inexpensive and outrageously quaffable Rosso. A co-fermented blend of 80% Nebbiolo and 20% Arneis, both grown in Barbaresco’s vineyards. Easy to love and versatile, this is a wine for casual gatherings and weekday “clean out the refrigerator casserole” (though something with mushrooms would be particularly apt). Aromas of rose petals, rose water, potpourri, cranberry, cinnamon, wild strawberry and a touch of tarry earth flow into a fresh palate with a gentle tannic touch and a star burst of strawberry and orange fruit. Flowers and a telltale note of licorice linger on the finish.

Domaine Faillenc Corbieres Sainte Marie 2021 $17

Domaine Faillenc has the ruins of a roman winery on the property. We don’t know for sure how good the wine was, but people in what later became Corbieres clearly didn’t stop making wine, and the Domaine’s ‘modern’ era began in the seventeenth century when a soldier serving Louis XIV returned home planted a vineyard outside the tiny village of Douzens. Today, it’s just 8 hectares of Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault planted on stony soils. Dominique and Maria-Thérèse Gilbert and their son Jean-Baptiste farm organically at the foot of mount Alaric. The vineyards are buffeted by Mediterranean winds and rarely visited by rain, resulting in a rich, dense, and savory red wine with aromas of cassis pastille, anise, garrigue, blueberry, black cherry and white pepper. The palate is fleshy, full, and brimming with midnight black fruit, pepper and potting soil, fennel, and earth woven around stern, chalky tannins. If you have a fireplace, this wine is best drunk next to a warm fire with a stew that simmered for hours.

 

Champfleury Bordeaux 2020 $19

Bordeaux with its collar unbuttoned. We rarely find wine from such a staid region with such a carefree attitude. This is a bottle for burgers with ironic names where the toppings fall out on your hands – I call these Panic Burgers. You want this wine with your favorite french fries – ideally cooked in duck fat. This is the bottle for when you “accidentally” buy a bunch of charcuterie at the store instead of dinner. Not to say this wine is a flash in the pan, there’s plenty of substance here too, thanks to the talents of winemaker Gonzague Maurice of Château de Grandchamps. This is mostly Merlot from the St Emilion area, and offers classic notes of blackcurrant, tilled earth, dark chocolate and vanilla bean mark the nose, and palate shows deep black cherry, currant, fresh raspberries and black dirt among gentle yet firm tannins. What makes this wine sing is how completely “correct” it is as a Bordeaux, yet it has a certain warmth and ease many of its cousins lack. This wine is very easy to drink.

 

Jacob Martin Willamette Valley Gamay 2022 $20

Taking a sip of this wine is like walking your palate into one of those funhouse mirror mazes, except all the mirrors only reflect strawberries. Sometimes simplicity can be an end in itself in wine, and that’s why Jacob Martin Kinne put a picture of a strawberry on this label. Sure, there are hints of Rainier cherry; and a touch of forest floor and white pepper sneaks in as it opens up, but strawberries are the appetizer, the main course, and dessert here. Texturally, this is a silky and fresh beverage, transparent glowing ruby red, with a pithy touch of bitter tannins that build on the finish. Serve with just about anything, but keep a couple bottles ready for that traditional February burst of a few warm days between the rains.

Some of you might have recognized the name Kinne a few lines up. Jake is Matt Kinne’s son, whose McKinlay wines have quietly been the best value Pinot Noir in Oregon for a while now. Jake grew up in the winery, and he has inherited his father’s gift for making exceptional wine for even more exceptional prices.

 

Iacopo Paolucci Trebbiano Spoletino Il Ponziano 2022 $22

It is an open secret in the trade that you actually can buy wine by the label, and if you need proof, take a look at this wine. Not only does this Umbrian white come in the most spectacularly beautiful package, but the wine inside is a dream. Effulgent aromas of white blossoms, peach and pear and Cara Cara oranges with gravel and crushed Tuscan herbs tickle the nose before the palate climbs out of Plato’s cave to bask in rays of orange, peach and apricot, washing over touches of almond and minerals. This is a full bodied wine because it’s Trebbiano Spoletino, which makes Umbria’s fullest bodied white wine, and Spoleto native Iacopo Paolucci has made it his life’s work to bring Umbria’s native grapes to their greatest potential. He farms his vineyard at about 1600 feet above sea level without pesticide, and gives the wine five days of skin contact to add a little extra textural bite. Nothing else goes into the wine other than a touch of sulfur at bottling. Nothing else is needed on our end but a glass. And maybe a roast chicken. Or a mushroom risotto.

 

Birgit & Katrin Pfneisl Burgenland Blauerfranker 2022 - 1000ml $20

The Pfeiszl family fled Communism in the 1950s, leaving their vines behind in Hugary’s Sopron to settle in Burgenland, just across the border in Austria. There, the family established Pfneisl, one of Burgenland’s largest and most successful wineries. In the 2000s, the family was able to reacquire the ancestral vineyards in Hungary, and sisters Birgit and Katrin elected to return there to re-establish the family name. There they honed their craft, learned the intricacies of organic farming, and made their name famous on both sides of the border. Now they’ve taken a bigger role in the family’s Austrian properties, and this charming liter bottle is the result. The wine shows Blaufrankisch at its most approachable; boysenberries and clay and pepper and herbs come through on the nose. The palate has a bouncy texture that offers a firm tannic handshake alongside pure blue and purple berries, earth, and pepper. It’s a wine that benefits from a few minutes aeration (or a vigorous shake after opening), and will match with hearty sausage dishes and burgers.

 

Meinklang Burgenland Gruner Veltliner 2022 $20

This wine smells of peaches and pears and oranges blossoms, ginger and mint and cracked black pepper. It hits the palate like a Saturday morning cartoons juice ad, an explosion of Cara Cara orange and wild strawberry and lemon. There’s white pepper too, and a live wire of acidity that gives the finish a crisp and clean snap somehow balanced by surprisingly weighty texture for this 11% abv Gruner Veltliner. We’ve come to expect nothing less from Meinklang, the legendary pioneers of biodynamics in Austria’s Burgenland. This was one of the first natural wineries in Austria, and also among the first wineries to embrace the ethos of polyculture for the health of their property. Meinklang’s vineyards are nestled among orchards, ponds, gardens, and pastures for their 8,000 head of cattle, who graze the vineyards and provide the base for biodynamic preps used not just by Meinklang, but many other biodynamically-farmed vineyards around Austria. At eighty hectares, Meinklang is one of the largest biodynamic farms around, and proof that you can scale this holistic farming style while creating consistently delicious and balanced wines. 

 

Mary Taylor La Mancha Blanco 2022 $13

Villarrobledo is a town surrounded on all sides by vineyards where low, snarled bush vines grow out of red clay on the windswept plateau of La Mancha. This is hot, dry country where the majority of the grapes end up distilled into brandy. There are exceptions to the rule, and one of them is Rocio Grenada Hererro, a young winemaker following her father’s footsteps into winemaking. When wine importer Mary Taylor stopped by the winery looking for the sort of hidden gems her label is famous for, there was a tank full of Macabeo that checked every box. Farmed organically and made with minimal intervention, the wine has freshness and acidity uncommon for this semi-arid region. Aromas of apricot, sultana, hazelnut, and clay with touches of saffron, curry powder and marigold. The palate is rich enough to stand up to winter weather, with acidity that keeps it tasting vibrant, with flavors of peach, apricot, preserved lemon and almond. The finish offers echoes of almond, earth, and dried yellow fruits. Put this next to a vegetarian paella, risotto, or something featuring cream and mushrooms.