Argentina: Continuing our Exploration

After years of thinking of Mendoza Malbec as a fairly monolithic wine, we’ve been discovering what a new generation of winemakers is doing in this high-altitude region, as they move away from an “international” style of winemaking and uncover how unique site and varietal combine to make wine that is both distinctive and delicious.

This week, we turn to tiny production Laureano Gomez, and the 700 bottle production of his 2018 Malbec Mendoza.

Laureano Gomez learned his craft over two decades as winemaker at Mendoza powerhouses Salentein and Trapiche, creating Trapiche’s “Iscay” red, often called Mendoza’s first “cult wine.” In 2010, he struck out on his own, converting the garage of his small house in the village of town of Colonia Las Rosas into a micro-winery. Today he works in an actual winery, built by his son, who studied construction after both his sisters became winemakers because “three winemakers in one family are enough.”

Organic, Dry Farmed Grapes
In both the garage and winery, though, Gomez’s approach is the same. All fruit was purchased from small, local growers who farm organically and without irrigation (still rare in Mendoza). The grapes are harvested by hand in small wooden boxes, sorted carefully, and then crushed and allowed to ferment at their own pace when the winery’s native yeast gets around to doing the job.

The wine moves from fermenter to barrel and tank by gravity – there are no pumps anywhere in the winery. When ready, Gomez and his family bottle the wine by hand, label the bottles by hand, and pack and tape up the boxes for sale locally and, in small quantities, in the USA.

As Natural as Possible
From first to last, the goal is to let the vineyards, vintage and varietals speak for themselves. So the grapes are picked ripe vs. over-ripe and new oak is used judiciously – only half the wine sees barrel, mostly used, for only six months.

The wines are never fined (a process used to remove sediment and/or tannins) or filtered, and are finished with very limited additions of sulfur, just enough to keep the wine from spoiling during shipment. At 40 ppm, the sulfite level in this wine is low enough to qualify for many “natural wine” competitions!

Further exploration
A bottle of Laureano Gomez’ wine will be open all week, and this weekend, expand your Mendoza exploration with a taste of Las Compuertas Criolla Mendoza 2019 – This varietal, called Mission in California and Pais in Chile, is the first wine grape brought to the New World from Europe. This is from 1943 plantings, full of tart cherry/strawberry fruit, and sweet/tart on the mouthwatering finish. Yummy, rare, very limited and very much worth trying.)

Priorat: Spain’s Answer to Chateauneuf?

priorat llicorella soils

As in Chateauneuf, Priorat soils are hidden by a layer of stones.

Priorat is an unbelievably rugged wine region in Catalonia, a couple of hours inland an up-country from Barcelona. The climate is Mediterranean, with hot sunshine partially moderated by altitude and wind. The vines grow on steeply sloped hillsides of fractured slate – often you have to dig through a foot or more of broken rock to get to the shallow soils where young vines are planted.

If the notion of soil hidden by stones brings to mind Chateauneuf du Pape, you’re on the right track. Except the rock is splintered granite instead of rounded off river stones. The main grapes overlap with Chateauneuf’s – Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan predominate – and ripen to the same big, bold, levels you find in the Southern Rhone.

But Utterly Unique
But Carignan – or Carinyena as it’s called here – plays a much bigger role (about 40% of AiAiAi’s blend). So you can think of Priorat as CdP but with more blue/black fruit character. And a more firm and powerful spine. And with an utterly unique and captivating sense of dusty slate on the nose, palate and finish.

Silvia Puig has been planting vineyards, growing grapes and making wine in Priorat for her whole adult life, and for the past 10 years or so she’s been creating some of the region’s most exciting, handcrafted, wines under the En Numeros Vermells label. Until recently, she’s made her tiny lots of bold, rich reds and whites (from a few hundred to 3,000 or so bottles of each wine) in the cellar of her home in the heart of Priorat (starting this year, she’s got her own winery – more on that to come later this spring!).

silvia-puig-2019.jpgWith such tiny production levels and a loyal customer base (like us – we sell more of Silvia’s wines than anyone!), she doesn’t have to present her wines to critics for review. But somehow Josh Raynolds of Vinous got his hands on a bottle of her “entry level” AiAiAi 2014. He wrote:

“A heady, exotically perfumed bouquet evokes ripe red and dark berries, potpourri and Indian spices, along with suggestions of cola and smoky minerals. Concentrated yet lithe, showing strong energy and focus to its juicy black raspberry, lavender pastille and spicecake flavors. The floral quality gains strength with air, carrying through a very long, sweet and gently tannic finish that leaves sappy berry and mineral notes behind.” Vinous (Raynolds) 92 points

Sound good? We’re featuring the 2018 AiAiAi this week, and 2018 is a much better year and this is an even more exciting wine. In fact, even though this is Silvia’s “entry-level” red, it easily outshines most Priorat wineries’ top reds.

And the name? It comes from Silvia’s experience making wine in the basement of her house while tending young children playing in the cellar. “AiAiAi, get off those barrels.” “AiAiAi, don’t fall in the vat!” But the name is just as apt as a description of your reaction when you taste this stunning 2018.

“AiAiAi! That’s delicious!”

Distinctive and Delicious Malbecs from Mendoza

argentina-11-1-1

Mendoza winemakers are traveling a road to producing wines that reflect soil and place – and do so deliciously!

When Malbec burst on the American wine scene and pushed aside Aussie Shiraz as the best wine value in the USA 10-15 years ago, paying attention to the terroir of various subregions wasn’t on anyone’s mind.

As Uco Valley winemaker Matías Riccitelli told Wine Enthusiast in late 2018, “In the early days, meaning 15 to 20 years ago, the creativity came from outside,” he says. “You had Michel Rolland and his Bordeaux friends at Clos de los Siete, Paul Hobbs [from California] at Cobos, and Hans Vinding-Diers [a Dane] with Noemia down in Patagonia.”

Those outsiders brought with them an “International” understanding of what made for great red wine. And the wines they made – picked at very full ripeness, softened to smoothness, and given a sheen of spice in new oak – very much fit that international mold. And given the then very low land and farming costs in Argentina, they delivered that polished style at stunningly low prices.

A couple of years ago, we began noticing something new in the Malbecs we tried at our buying tastings.

A New Generation. As second and third generation Mendoza-born winery owners took the reins of their estates, they began looking past the international style to try to discover what was unique about their vines, soils, and locations. To be honest, most of those early attempts reminded us why Malbec traditionally plays a supporting role to Cabernet Sauvignon in most of the world.

Today, though, we’re finding more and more examples of Mendoza Malbec that is both distinctively “Mendoza” and utterly delicious. A wine class a few months ago with Sebastian Zuccardi of the Familia Zuccardi Estate provided a fine introduction to the varied terroirs of Mendoza. And this Saturday (Jan. 11, 2020), we are featuring wines from Bodega Andeluna.

Andeluna WineryAndeluna is a great example of an estate working in the Mendoza subregion of Gualtallary that’s made the transition to wines of delicious distinctiveness. Join us on Saturday from noon-4pm and you can taste through their full line-up of current releases with export manager Nicolás Cricco. Like us, we think you’ll be thrilled with the purity of their Chardonnay, the floral complexity of their Torrentes, and the satisfying richness of both their “everyday” Cabernet and the much more serious Malbec Altutud.

But Andeluna’s Malbec Raices is most likely the wine that will stop you cold. Especially when you look at the price – at $9.98 by the bottle, the best you’ll find in the USA. At $7.98/ea by the case? This wine showcases the unique blend of alluvial, sandy, and limestone-rich soils of Gualtallary. These free-draining soils give bunches of small berries that achieve full ripeness of flavor and tannin at modest alcohols of 13.8%. And when treated with care, they deliver wines that match their fullness and fruit with amazing freshness and superb drinkability. A can’t miss winning four-season, all-purpose red that could be the finest value you’ll find in all of 2020 to come!

Brunello Vintage 2015: “A Historical Year”

Brunello 2015We’ve been hearing “buzz” about Brunello’s magnificent 2015 harvest pretty much ever since the grapes came in off the vines. The wines won’t be released until January and most wine critics wait until the official Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino in mid-January to make pronouncements on the finished wines.

But former Wine Spectator Senior Editor, now independent critic, James Suckling managed to persuade 40+ top producers to show him the wines in October. His take:

“2015 is a great vintage. It will rank among the best recent vintages in the region, and will be compared to the likes of 2010, 2007, 2006, 2001, and 1997.”

“So many of the wines we tasted showed a beautiful depth of fruit and endless length. They are dense and rich wines, structured with masses of tannins yet finely textured and comprehensive in the mouth. The tannins seem to melt into the wine. I have never seen this before in a young vintage of Brunello and few other sangiovese-based wines.”

“The 2015 vintage is a historical year for Brunello di Montalcino that nobody should miss. The wines show impressive precision of vivid fruit, fine tannins and freshness in acidity despite their ripeness and richness which makes them some of the most exciting in years.”

In short, everything we expected and hoped for based on the brilliance of 2015 in nearby Chianti and other top Tuscan DOCs. If you love the majestic blend of power and vibrancy Sangiovese achieves in the Montalcino hills and want to stock you cellar with wines that will be a delight to taste young and shine across a couple of decades…well, Brunello 2015 is for you.

Tariffs???
There’s really only one fly in the luxurious ointment of 2015 Brunello: the threat of 100% tariffs imposed on European wines by the US government. This issue is complex, and we don’t do politics here. For now, we’re cautiously optimistic that Italian wines will continue to escape punitive tariffs (they were not impacted by the October tariffs related to the Boeing/Airbus dispute). But please note that all pricing and availability in our 2015 Brunello offers are contingent on no new tariffs being implemented.

Join the Brunello 2015 List!
We’re hoping to do around a dozen 2015 Brunello di Montalcino pre-arrival offers. If you’d like to be included in all of them, email wineteam@cbcwine.com and we’ll add you to our Brunello 2015 Offer list.

Reserving your 2015 Brunello on pre-sale ensures that you’ll get the wines you want at the very best prices we can offer. We receive better pricing when we purchase on pre-sale and we pass those savings along to you along with lower mark-ups based on our reduced inventory risk. Some offers will go to our full email list, but many will be too limited to offer broadly. Signing up for the Brunello 2015 Offer list ensures you see them all!

How the Market Works. Will these be the very lowest prices you’ll see in the USA? Sometimes, and they’ll always be competitive with the best prices we can find at the time we make the offer. But lower offers could emerge. There are retailers in the national market that are comfortable buying wines from brokers and other third-parties in Europe and then importing the wines directly. These “Gray Market” wines avoid the mark-ups charged by US-based importers. But they also avoid the assurance that the wines are what the label says they are and that they were kept in perfect condition from winery to distributor to us and to you.

And different retailers have different strategies. There are plenty out there that offer wines at one price to their “online” customers and at a different, higher price to folks who shop in their store. Or offer wines they may not really have access to at super-low prices, planning to “bait” customers into contacting them and then “switch” them to another, more profitable, product.

Our Approach. We’re taking an approach that makes sense to us and, we think, to you. We’ll invite you to reserve your favorite 2015 Brunello knowing that we’re sourcing them from quality importers/distributors and that the wines will arrive in impeccable condition. We’ll confirm your order within a week or two of receiving your request and make sure we have accurate payment info on file. But, you won’t pay for the wines until they are here and ready for pick-up – a big departure from the normal “futures” approach you’ll find most other places.

And, we’ll only offer you wines we’re certain you’ll love. We hope you think that’s a pretty good deal all the way around!

Again, to join the Brunello 2015 Pre-Sale List, email us at wineteam@cbcwine.com. And if you have any questions, feel free to email or call us at 703-356-6500.

Champagne, Cava, Cremant … What’s the Story?

champagne glassesWe get lots of questions about the names and terms used for different sparkling wines, so here’s a quick primer for anyone who is feeling a touch confused.

The big name in the field is Champagne, a label that used to be applied to many different kinds of fizz. Today – after years of negotiation and some fairly aggressive litigation by the Champenoise – the “Champagne” name is restricted to wines that:

  • Come from the Champagne region of France
  • Are made from seven authorized grapes (but mainly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and the red Pinot Meunier)
  • Get their bubbles from a secondary fermentation that takes place in bottle
  • Rest on the lees – dead yeast cells – from that secondary fermentation for at least 15 months for non-vintage or 30 months for vintage dated wines

The story of how Champagne was first created and popularized is long and winding and full of myth (no, Dom Perignon did not “invent” Champagne – he tried to stop it from fizzing!), but it’s ended up with Champagne holding the title of, arguably, the best sparkling wine in the world and certainly the most expensive.

Grower Champagne. This term refers to Champagne made from grapes that the estate also grew. Many Champagne houses make Champagne from fruit they purchase from growers. Veuve Cliquot and Moen & Chandon are two examples. These are certainly fine Champagnes, but over the last few decades there’s been a movement by more growers to make Champagne themselves. The price can be lower too!

Solera Champagne. Most fine Champagnes get their complexity from aging of the base wines in oak barrels and/or extended aging “on the lees” in bottle after the secondary fermentation (where the bubbles come from!). But there’s a third approach called “solera.” R Dumont Solera Reserve Brut is a good example: After harvesting their 1991 vintage grapes, the Dumont family filled a single stainless steel cask with their remarkable Chardonnay. Each year, they took about a third of the wine out and used it in their NV Brut, replacing what they took with Chardonnay wine from that year’s vintage. After ten years, they released their first solera. Each release after that includes wines from even more vintages.

While drinking “real” Champagne is a treat – and something we all should do more often! – it’s not surprising that many other sparkling wines have emerged to try to slake our thirst for fine fizz at more reasonable prices.

France’s Cremant. The term was originally used to denote wines from Champagne that had a little less fizz than regular Champagne, but that style and usage have fallen away today. Now the French use “Cremant” to designate sparkling wines made outside of Champagne using the Champagne method of secondary fermentation in bottle. You’ll find Cremant wines from all across France, many – like Cremant d’Alsace – using very different grapes from Champagne (e.g. Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or even Riesling). This example from the Loire Valley is a blend of Chenin Blanc (60%), Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc (made white).

Sparklers from Italy, Spain and the U.S. Many Americans start their sparkling wine adventure with crisp, fruity wines from Italy like Moscato di Asti or Prosecco. We love them both, but neither uses Champagne grapes or even the Champagne method to create fizz. These wines undergo secondary fermentation in a large tank and are then bottled with the fizz already in the wine. It’s a less expensive process that won’t give you the same texture or toasty flavors found in méthode champenoise wines.

We’re featuring a fun Italian sparkler this week: a white sparkling wine made from red Lambrusco grapes that serves up layers of white fruit (grape, Granny Smith apple, nectarine) with accents of toasty hazelnut and brioche.

The best of Spain’s sparkling Cava wines can deliver much more Champagne quality at a fraction of the price. These wines are made using the méthode champenoise (although they’re not allowed to use that term on the label – nothing to suggest competition with Champagne is allowed!), and can show some of the creaminess and yeasty, toasty notes we love in Champagne. But Cava is usually made with different grapes – macabeo, parellada and xarel·lo are most common – which give the wines different flavors and often a nuttier, more oxidative character. A fun inexpensive one to try is Los Monteros Cava Brut NV, made from 100% Macabeo from vineyards near Valencia.

Most top-notch American sparkling wines are made with Champagne’s fermentation methods and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, and in many cases, the companies and even the same winemakers who make the best wines in Champagne create these American wines. But most grow in warmer climates and in richer soils than you find in Champagne, so they tend to be a bit heartier and seldom quite as finely textured as true Champagne.

If you have questions, please feel free to ask more about the wonderful world of sparking wines. And come by this weekend for our “Fun with Fizz” Free Tastings!

Cheers!

 

 

Dom La Barroche: Letting Nature Do It (with Lots of Hard Work)

Julien Barrot of Dom Barroche

The Barrot family owns 36 acres of some of Chateauneuf’s finest vineyard land, with 30 acres in production and six acres lying fallow in preparation for new planting.

Lying Fallow
Julien will leave more than five percent of his land out of production for seven full years – shocking given the value of CdP vineyard! – because, “When you think about it, a parcel could have been used for vinegrowing for 100 straight years or longer. There is no way the soil can recover in just a few years after that.”

The producing land is mainly sandy-soiled sites in some of the region’s best areas, including an important slice abutting Rayas. The average vine age is 65 years, with multiple plots comfortably over the century mark and all farmed with organic care.

Staying Fresh in a Warmer Season
In the third year of his new gravity flow winery, Julien Barrot continues to take major steps to increase the purity and finesse of his wines and moderate the extreme ripeness and power the region sometimes struggles to manage in an era of warmer growing seasons.

He now makes no green harvest to increase the workload of the vines and moderate sugar levels. All of the Grenache remained on the stems for fermentation, adding a touch of spice and extra layer of freshness. And all of the fruit fermented in unlined “raw” concrete egg-shaped tanks to gain very gentle extraction and tamp down fruitiness a tiny bit.

“A Lazy Culture?”
Meeting Julien at the Domaine this past March demonstrated that the exuberance and generosity of the Dom la Barroche wines is simply a reflection of this marvelous young winemaker. Describing his hands-off, low-intervention, style of farming and winemaking, Julien repeatedly said, “We are a lazy culture in Provence. We never do anything if nature will do it for us!”

Of course, his energy in hopping from tank to tank and barrel to barrel to show off samples of the 2018s and pride in showing off the iPhone app he uses to track and manage fermentation temperatures while in the vineyards picking grapes didn’t look or sound very “lazy” to me! But the blend of doing nothing but what is necessary, while doing that full-tilt and with no restraint, is exactly why Julien’s 2017s are so very, very exciting.

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Five Ways to Make Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Easy

thanksgiving-table.jpgNot sure what wine you want to put out on the table with the big bird and all the fixings? Here are some fool-proof strategies for picking great bottles to share with family and friends before, during, and after the big meal:

Lighten Up! – Well, that’s good general advice for a day that’s about being thankful for all the gifts of family, friends and the year. In wine terms, though, it means balancing the heaviness of traditional Thanksgiving feasts with lighter, refreshing wines. For whites try minerally Riesling (dry or lightly sweet), crisp Italian whites, or something more exotic like Txakoli. For reds, elegant Willamette Valley Pinot Noir will be a winner, as will good Beaujolais (not Nouveau), zingy Northern Italian reds or – a favorite of ours – Mencia from Spain’s Ribera Sacra.

thanksgiving-red.jpgPower Through – It’s a big meal, so match it with full and fleshy wines bursting with bold flavors. American Zinfandel and California Pinot Noirs are the classic suggestions here. But bold Rhone reds like Chateauneuf du Pape and Cotes du Rhone are just as much fun. You can find great value in Spain’s Tempranillo and Monestrell grapes or add a bit of luxury by going with powerful Priorat or even majestic Brunello di Montalcino.

champagne glassesBring on the Bubbles! – It’s 11 am, the oven is cranked, pots are simmering on the stove, maybe you’ve just come in from setting up the turkey fryer – just imagine how good an ice-cold glass of fizz will taste! Sparkling wine is welcome at every table all year ‘round. Maybe start with some friendly Prosecco or Cava pre-dinner, then step up to rich, toasty Champagne to enhance stuffing and sweet potatoes. And nothing will make the dinner table look more elegant (or those way too heavy mashed potatoes go down easier) than pretty pink rosé fizz in every glass.

Give Up – Look, here’s what every wine professional knows: No wine is a really good match for the cacophonous spread of sweet, savory, tangy and salty foods on the traditional Thanksgiving table. While it’s not obvious how oaky California Chardonnay, rich Napa Cab, or savory matured Bordeaux will pair with your Thanksgiving dinner, who cares? It’s a feast. Eat as much as you like and drink whatever the heck you want to – just be thankful you can!

Finish with Sweet Success – The turkey has been demolished, dishes are piled up waiting to be washed, and only crumbs remain in the pumpkin pie plate. As you settle down to digest and savor the day, one last sip of something sweet is the perfect treat. Port, sweet Chenin, tangy Madeira, subtle Sauternes – any and all will bring an unexpectedly luxurious and delightful close to Thanksgiving Day!

Want to see some specific suggestions? Just visit our CBC Thanksgiving Selections page, and you’ll find our staff favorites for enjoying on Thanksgiving Day and beyond. Or just stop by our give us a call. We’ll be thankful we had the chance to make your Thanksgiving Day just a bit tastier.