Girardin White Burgundy: Wines of Finesse and Style

Girardin SignWhile it still carries the founder’s name, by the mid-2000s, Vincent Girardin had largely turned over responsibility the Domaine to GM Marco Caschera and winemaker Eric Germain. Since Girardin retired in 2012, Caschera and Germain continue to push this once very good estate forward towards greatness.

Under Germain’s leadership, the Domaine has moved away from the fleshy, super-ripe, and heavily-oaked style of whites that first brought it fame in the 1990s. The focus now is first and foremost on farming. The Domaine itself owns and tends about 50 acres of vines across Burgundy and has access to additional vineyards owned by trusted growers.

Careful Farming
Girardin vineyardsVineyard work is as natural as possible, following organic and biodynamic principles as much as Burgundy’s fickle climate and weather allows. Yields are now modest due to careful pruning and thinning of the crop during the growing season. Grapes are harvested by hand and sorted twice – once in the vineyard by the pickers and then again in the winery by hand and – since 2016 – a modern optical sorting machine.

In contrast to the winery’s original style, Germain’s focus now is on getting his fruit to bottle with as little manipulation and handling as possible. For Chardonnay, that means no destemming before pressing – because knocking the berries off the stems opens the grape to the risk of oxidization before fermentation. Instead, whole clusters go directly to the press were the juice can be gently extracted and flow by gravity directly into tank for settling.

From tank, the thick, fresh, juice flows by gravity into French oak barrels for both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. Oak is important to developing richness and depth to Chardonnay, but Germain does not like the flavor of wood, so most wines see 10-15% new oak (enough to replace aging barrels) and only the very top, most concentrated, wines get as much as 30%.

Waiting Until It’s Ready
Puligny-Montrachet and glassesOnce the wine is in barrel, Germain….waits. Other than keeping each barrel topped up to make up for evaporation, the wine simply sits on the fine lees of fermentation for 14-18 months of resting and maturation. When the wine is ready, the cellar team simply knocks the bottom bung out of the barrel and allows the clear wine to flow out, leaving the milky sediment behind. Bourgogne Blanc – because of the amount made – requires a little pumping, so it sees a light filtration before bottling. Everything else goes naturally from barrel to blending tank to bottle.

All that’s nice, of course, but what really matters is what you’ll find in the bottle when you get it home. And that’s deliciousness! Sure, these are super-sophisticated wines of terrior, complexity and minerality. But they are also flat out fun to drink right now and built to keep on improving more. Come, taste, and stock up while you can!

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Rioja Modern and Traditional

vinsacro-grapesJuan Escudero began making Rioja wine in a small cave carved out of a hillside in 1852, well before the French invasion. The family continued winemaking and growing through the years, with Juan’s grandson, Benito, moving into Cava production in the 1950s. His children returned to Rioja and under the leadership of Bordeaux-trained brother Amador founded Bodegas Vinsacro around the turn of this century.

They planted about 30 acres of vines in Rioja Baja in 1996, but the key to the success of this very modern winery was a small, very old, and very, very old-fashioned vineyard owned by the family for 120 years. It’s called Cuesta la Reina and it was planted around 1945 (70 years ago) on the stony southern slope of Mount Yerga between 450 and 800 meters elevation.

An Old-Fashioned Vineyard
Vinsacro harvestAs was customary at the time, the vineyard was planted by taking cuttings of another old vineyard and grafting the canes onto new rootstocks – a process called massal selection. And, as was customary in Rioja for centuries before the current modern revolution, that old vineyard was planted to a mixture of vine types including Garnacha (perhaps half the vineyard) plus Tempranillo, Graciano, Monastrell and Bobal.

As in 17th and 18th Century Bordeaux, this blend of grapes was less about achieving the perfect blend in the finished wine than about insurance: if growing conditions caused problems with one varietal, there was at least a chance that the others would ripen. When it was time to harvest, the whole vineyard was picked at once and the wine’s final blend was whatever happened to come off the vines. In fact, the traditional name for this style vineyard, “Vidau,” means “ready to pick.”

Modern Quality and Care
Amador and his brothers cherished this old vineyard, but also began applying some modern farming ideas. First, they converted to completely organic farming to help the soil regain its health and keep the old vines thriving. Then, they began to pick each varietal separately as they ripened fully. Tempranillo gets picked first, usually in the first week of October. Then Garnacha comes in late October before Graciano in early November and then, last, Mazuelo and Bobal.

As if four separate harvests weren’t expensive enough, the grapes are sorted twice, once in the vineyard and then on a vibrating table in the winery before they go into the vats. After fermenting separately, each varietal ages for 12-14 months in a mixture of new 70% French oak casks – for modern polish and American oak barrels – for that classic Rioja style.

Finally, Amador creates the decidedly old-fashioned Rioja blend that will become Dioro. About 50% of the final wine is Tempranillo – compared to 80-100% at most “modernist” estates. About 20% is Garnacha (for hints of red raspberry) and 10% each Mazuelo and Graciano (for vivid acids and cherry fruit). Monastrell (earthy) and Bobal (licorice and plum) make up the rest of the blend. Only the very best barrels of wine from Cuesta la Reina go into Dioro, with the rest of the vineyard’s wine being blended into other bottlings.

From organic farming to multiple harvest passes, double sorting, new French oak aging, and strict selection of only the best lots, this is an expensive way to make wine. Which is why Wine Advocate gave the 2015 such high praise (92 points) even at a curiously high reported $65 release price.

At the $27 charged by the big box store down the street, Vinsacro Rioja Dioro 2015 is solid value in rich, ripe, powerful Rioja. At our $14.98 best price, the quality/price ratio is simply silly good!

vinsacro-rioja

Inside Tuscany’s Poggio ai Chiara

IMG_20180426_142523Poggio ai Chiara is a true “Tuscan insider’s” wine, made in tiny quantities and rarely leaving central Italy. To be honest, I’d never heard of it at all until I met Fabbio last March at his modest-looking home and vineyard not far from Cortona in eastern Tuscany.

Any winery where you start your visit by ducking into a half-buried Etruscan tomb and then navigate past mold-covered casks of all sizes before reaching a newer cellar filled with used French oak in every size imaginable … well, you can tell something interesting is going on. And whatever else you can say about the passionate, intense, dedicated Fabbio Cenni, you certainly have to agree he and his wines are interesting!


Fabbio’s vineyard is in an overlooked slice of eastern Tuscany near Cortona and Lago di Trasimeno. Fabbio planted his vineyard with more than 19 different Sangiovese clones at a crazy high density of 10,000 plants per hectare. He farms organically and makes wine “naturally” – if extremely.

After crushing, the Sangiovese barrels rest in their fermentation vats until native yeasts begin to work. Fermentation is low and slow, with most wines getting a full 30 days on the skins (pretty much unheard of for tannic Sangiovese). Then into a dizzying array of old barrels, some small, some medium-sized and some very large. Over the next 5-6 years, the wine stays in barrel, with Fabio racking it from one cask to another to give the wine air and keep it healthy. After bottling around the 6-year mark, the wine rests for another two years before release.
Mustiola vertical.png
While the 2009 was the most impressive of the Poggio ai Chiara vintages I tasted, I loved the 2008 and 2006 as well and was delighted to be able to grab a little of each for you. If you can, come by the store this Sunday from 2-4pm and try a mini-vertical of all three. Importer John Grimsley will be here to present the wines and we’ll have good sized pours, time, and some snacks that will allow you plenty of time to get to know these wonderful wines.

But whether you can come or not, reserve some of the 2009 Poggio ai Chiara right away. It will become one of your favorite Tuscan rarities and a wine you love drinking and sharing over the next decade.

Lirac vs. Chateauneuf du Pape

Lirac galet

Lirac vineyards are very similar to those of Chateauneuf

It’s hardly surprising that Clos de Sixte Lirac regularly gets compared to the much more expensive wines of Chateauneuf du Pape. Sitting just across the Rhone River on the western bank, Lirac is essentially the other half of Chateauneuf.

The climate and subsoil are essentially identical to Chateauneuf, and – like Chateauneuf – most of the vineyards are covered in large, rounded stones called “galet” left behind by the Rhone when it filled the entire valley in ancient times.

From Fame to Phylloxera
When the Papacy arrived in Avignon in the early 1300s and began searching out sources of wine for communion and celebration, Lirac was quickly identified as the source of the very finest wine in the region. We know that Pope Innocent IV paid a premium for the 20 casks of Lirac he purchased in 1357.

Even after the Pope’s returned to Rome, Lirac’s fame as the Rhone’s best wine continued to grow. Both King Henry IV and Louis XIV regularly served Lirac at their courts. By the end of the 1700s Lirac was, as the Oxford Companion to Wine explains, “a much more important wine center than Chateauneuf du Pape.”

With high demand came the temptation for fraud, and unscrupulous winemakers throughout the Rhone – including in Chateauneuf – often tried to pass their “inferior” wines off as Lirac. To help stamp out this fraud, in 1737 the king of France ordered that casks shipped from Roquemaure should be branded “CDR” – for Cotes du Rhone – as a sign that they were authentic and of the highest quality.

Lirac thrived as the Southern Rhone’s premier wine region right up until phylloxera arrived in 1863. By 1870, essentially no vines remained in Lirac or Chateauneuf du Pape. But the growers of Chateauneuf were quicker to reorganize and replant and reestablish the region’s reputation for great, robust, reds. For most of the 20th Century, Lirac languished as a land of small producers, negotiants, co-ops, and indifferent white, red and pink wine.

A Pivotal Force in Lirac’s Rebirth
Alain Jaume & FilsAlong with Fabrice and Christophe Delorme of Dom de la Mordoree and Henri de Lanzac of Ch de Segries, Alain Jaume has been a pivotal force in starting Lirac on its return to fame.

Talk to any member of the Jaume family, and you’ll quickly notice how their eyes light up and speech gets faster and more intense when they discuss Clos de Sixte. While they are certainly proud of their award-winning Chateauneuf du Papes, Gigondas and Cotes du Rhone, this Lirac vineyard holds a special place in the family’s heart.

They are (justifiably) proud of this wine that is helping re-establish the reputation of the once famous Lirac vineyard. Certified organic farming, hand harvesting, careful selection of only the best fruit, and the kind of winemaking – long, slow, fermentations and aging the Syrah (35%) and Mourvedre (15%) components in French oak barrels are the kind of care and expense normally only seen in top-flight Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

And, normally, the price of this glorious red Rhone resembles Chateauneuf, too. As critic Robert Parker said of the fine 2009, at the $30 release price, “Clos de Sixte may look expensive, but this is a sensational wine capable of lasting for a decade or more.” It’s impressive that the Jaume family’s 2016 Clos de Sixte Lirac carried the same $30 release price as the 2009. Our best in the USA $18.98/ea case price is more impressive still!

California’s Morlet Family Vineyard

morlet-family-vineyardsMorlet Family Vineyards recent releases have earned 96 and 97 points from Wine Advocate. The Advocate uses words like ‘electric’ and ‘triumphant’ to describe the two Chardonnays and Cabernet we are offering in our 2018 Small Business Saturday tasting, Nov. 24, 12-4 pm.

What makes these wines so special? On the surface, it’s that all are so very, very, very delicious. But it’s also pedigree. Luc Morlet learned wine growing up in Champagne and then honed his craft at Newton (he trained with John Kongsgaard before becoming winemaker) before becoming head winemaker at Peter Michael in 2001. There he followed in the footsteps of Helen Turley and Mark Aubert before leaving to start his own estate in 2006. Sir Peter Michael so valued Luc’s expertise and skill that he kept him on as his first and only consulting winemaker (helping his brother, Nick, who makes the wines today).

Luc morletLet’s just pause a moment and notice the names Luc is associated with:

Newton
Kongsgaard
Helen Turley (now at Marcassin)
Mark Aubert
Peter Michael

Can you find a more important list of California Chardonnay makers? Folks, this is one of California superstar winemakers. And his wines – as highly rated as they are – are actually even more impressive in your glass. These are not inexpensive wines by any definition, and our allocations are tiny, but this is a ‘do not miss’ chance to sample some of the most exciting New World wines we’ve tried in years.

 

Thanksgiving Selections

 

Clement ChampagnesWe love great Champagne on Thanksgiving, whether it’s sipped at breakfast, enjoyed for refreshment in a hot kitchen, paired with the feast, or savored after all the clean-up is done. And you won’t find better value Champagne for turkey than these featured wines from Charles Clement.

And we think most everyone will love our recommended Thanksgiving white and red: Steininger Grüner Veltliner Grand Grü 2017 and Dom Jean Royer Le Petit Roy 17eme 2017.

Looking for additional Thanksgiving wine recommendations? We’ve got you covered there as well. There’s no “right” way to pick Thanksgiving wines. In general, we prefer to avoid overtly oaky wines (they can fight with the food) or overly subtle ones (which can’t fight with the food – they lose!). But in all honesty, no one wine is going to pair well with savory dressing, earthy sweet potatoes and tangy cranberry relish. So, when in doubt, drink anything you find delicious and want to share!

Thanksgiving tableThree Strategies
But if you’re looking to maximize your Thanksgiving wine and food pleasure, we have three strategies to suggest – and great wines to fit all three approaches. To see our recommendations in each category, click on the link:

All American – It’s an American holiday and bold American wines can make a great choice to match up with bold Thanksgiving flavors. Here are a half-dozen favorites – including an unoaked Chardonnay from a state you’d never expect!

On the Lighter Side – It’s a heavy meal, so lighter wines can provide a nice contrast IF they are flavorful enough to sing out with the food. Here are six that keep the alcohol lower but the flavor amped up to the max.

Go Big or Go Home – Big flavors in food deserve big flavors in wine. And these wines from France, California, Sicily and Spain will more than keep pace with the most savory dressing and roasted bird.

Browse the recommendations and choose any that appeal. Or email wineteam@cbcwine.com, give us a call at 703.356.6500 or stop by the store. We’re here to help you find the perfect wines for your Thanksgiving table to match any menu or budget!

Il Civettaio: More than Agriturismo

Gregorio Dell_Adami de Tarczal

Gregorio Dell’Adami de Tarczal kind of backed into the wine business. Italian born, but descended from generations of Hungarian Tokaji producers, Gregorio purchased the charming Il Civettaio property in 1988 to open an agriturismo vacation property and make a little wine on the side.

But, as you’d expect from someone who had a successful career as a business executive in multi-national marketing firms, Gregorio soon got carried away. He immediately converted all three of his small vineyards to organic farming, eliminating herbicides and other chemical sprays. He added solar panels to the property, taking both the winery and the farm house “off the grid.” He even searched for new well sites using a diving rod!
Today he makes five wines plus grappa and olive oil and sells most of his production at the property and to local restaurants and wine lovers.

A Lucky Allocation
Il Civettaio Poggio al Commissario Toscana IGT labelWe were lucky to get to know his work when another producer in Campania invited Gregorio to join us for dinner after tasting her wines. And luckier still to get a nice allocation of a delicious Super-Tuscan value – Il Civettaio Poggio al Commissario Toscana IGT 2014 – to share with you!

 

Can you drink Il Civettaio Poggio al Commissario Toscana IGT 2014 with Thanksgiving dinner? Sure, why not! The ripe fruit will handle all the big flavors of a traditional turkey day feast, the herbal accents will echo the flavors and aromas of stuffing, and and the squirt of finishing acidity will refresh your palate for yet another helping of seconds. You’ll also enjoy this with classic Italian dishes like pizza, pasta, and – of course – Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Or tonight with any light nibbles as you wait for the election returns to come in.