What We’re Tasting – Old Favorites

Sometimes selling wine is like looking for an outfit in your closet.  It’s all too easy to reach for the same things over and over and forget about things you love.  Luckily, we re-taste almost everything when there’s a vintage change, and sometimes just because.  You know, for quality control.  And science.

Santa Barbara’s fantastic Verdicchio will be changing vintages soon, and as we tasted the 2012 a few days ago, we were reminded just how much we like this wine.  The higher-end Le Vaglie is wonderful, but the entry level is a whole lot of crisp, refreshing deliciousness for $10.99!

We also got a chance to try the new vintage of one of our perennial favorites, Dom Labbe’s Jacquere from the Savoie region in the French Alps.  Crisp, fresh and delicious, it calls to mind a pristine spring and fresh mountain herbs.  The 2012 is the best vintage yet of this, and we’ll be drinking it all spring!

Though we’re getting a bit more sunshine this week, nights are still chilly, which calls for a robust, warming red.  X Winery’s Red X blend is notorious for changing its unusual blend of grapes frequently, and this vintage, with a big slug of Dolcetto and Malbec, was even more interesting than usual!  We opened one up yesterday and were thrilled with its soft tannins and inviting, juicy fruit.  Perfect for a cold night, or some pizza!

A Delicious Trip to Barolo

As we’ve said to almost anyone who would listen in the past few weeks since we’ve returned from our adventures in the Piemonte, our trip felt charmed from beginning to (almost) end.  One of our more magical experiences was in the little town of Barolo itself.  On Monday of that week between appointments, we drove around to a few towns in the commune of Barolo, marveling at the beautiful scenery at every turn and snapping photos.

barolo town

In Barolo, we found ourselves hungry and in need of some lunch, but as we strolled around, we realized that, this being January and one of the few times hard working winemakers and restauranteurs can take a vacation in this region, many places were closed.  Fortunately, we stumbled on La Cantinetta (Via Roma, 33, 12060 Barolo, Italy 0173/56198) and had the kind of experience you always hope to have when traveling.

This place was clearly where locals hang out, and not realizing there’s a slightly more formal seating area in the back room, Doug and I parked ourselves in the front room near the bar and cash register.  At one of the other tables was a group of young guys in paint-splattered work pants enjoying a few nice bottles of wine and a leisurely lunch – only in Europe!  At another table, a single gentleman worked his way through several courses and just let the waiter fill his glass with whatever he saw fit – his nose buried in a newspaper, he barely glanced at the label as the bottle was brought by.

This same waiter also took care of Doug and I, and, as he listened to us try to stumble through ordering from the menu, sort of waived at us in that brusque-yet-kind way only seasoned restaurant professionals can project, and said he would bring us some things.  We never saw our menus again.

The highlight of our lunch was quite possibly the most delicious ravioli ever created.  This dish, which we later learned is the restaurant’s specialty, is an ethereally thin, round layer of pasta that holds a little moat of pureed greens that encircle a single, perfect, bright orange, raw egg yolk.  There is no sauce, just the barest dusting of grated cheese.  Once you cut into that egg, it’s all the sauce you need.  Decadent does not even begin to describe it – one is more than enough.

la cantinetta ravioli

We left that afternoon exactly the way you should feel after a truly wonderful lunch – full, but with a new bounce in our steps.

The next day, we had a wonderful visit to Damilano, also in Barolo.  The slick, modern winery was a stark contrast to the much smaller Brovia estate we’d visited the day before, but the wines were just as delicious.  We especially fell in love with the 2010 vintage of their Nebbiolo Marghe, which we got to taste before it arrived in the US.  Stay tuned to your inbox for some exciting news about the new edition!


We were in for a happy surprise for lunch when our charming host Barbara Levi Cavaglione said she’d take us to her favorite spot – the very place we’d eaten the day before!


Of course, we had that incredible ravioli again – who could resist?  We weren’t able to bring the ravioli back for you, but we hope you enjoy the wines we’ve discovered!

In Case You Missed Our Tour of Barolo and Barbaresco …

Last night (Feb 21) a cheerful – and sometimes raucous! – group of Nebbiolo lovers and would-be fans enjoyed a fascinating tasting of eight Piemonte wines, including one from Carema, one Barbaresco, and six very compelling Baroli. We talked about the history and character of the Nebbiolo grape, the region, and winemaking, but the wines themselves were certainly the stars of the evening.

We decanted about four hours before the class began, an approach that worked well for some of the wines and less well for others. Here are a few quick notes on the wines; prices and availability on each appear at the end of this post.

(Note: Prices below are the special prices we offered at the class. We will be happy to offer them to anyone who mentions this write-up.)

Ferrando Carema Etichetta Bianca 2008 – The flagship wine and winery of the tiny Carema region (not that big a distinction, really, since there are only two wineries there!). As expected, very elegant, transparent, and pure Nebbiolo with the elevated acidity you’d expect from cool Carema. Would have been better with one hour of air instead of four (more fruit and mid-palate), but still captivating and perfumed. No votes for Wine of the Night (WOTN), but the most-ordered wine of the tasting. A wine to drink and love rather than show off with.

De Forville Barbaresco 2009 – This small production, handcrafted, very natural Barbaresco was our one 2009 of the evening. I thought it lovely, with ripe fruit, good concentration, and a nice perfume, but it was definitely marked by 2009’s greater power vs. the 2008s to come. I’d drink this starting in three years or so for the lovely fruit and spice.

Vajra Barolo Albe 2008 – Wow; what a HUGE value this is! In a tasting where the other Baroli cost twice (or more than twice) the price, this showed off the ripe fruit, silky structure, and long finish that’s made it such a huge hit with in-store tasters this week. Earned about 10% of votes for Wine of the Night – even though it was definitely one of the wines that would have been better with less aeration.

Brovia Barolo Rocche 2008 – Even though the aromatics were definitely impacted by the long decant, this was simply beautiful. Plenty of Barolo power and ripeness, but fantastically perfumed and long, long, long on the palate and finish. Most beautiful back-palate and finish of the evening and basically tied for first place (30% of votes) for WOTN.

Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2008 – Vajra’s single vineyard gem from the highest Nebbiolo vineyard in Barolo showed beautifully last night. A bit darker, richer, and with more fruit than the Brovia Rocche and with plenty of perfume, this delivered a fantastic marriage of elegance and depth. Really captivating and the group’s #3 Wine of the Night with 17% of the vote.

Sandrone Barolo La Vigne 2008 – Moving into more “modernist” winemaking here, the 2008 defintely showed the impact of some new wood but remained firmly anchored in Barolo. Ripe red fruit, spice, smoke, rose petal, and an unexpected minerality all mingled together into an absolutely captivating set of aromas and flavors. Utterly silky on opening, the long decant let this open up and show its masses of velvety tannins. A stunner, and essentially tied for WOTN.

Damilano Barolo Cannubi 2007 Now, a much riper vintage from the vineyard often called the Chambertin of Piemonte, this offered up much riper, sweeter, fruit than the other wines along with fine depth and length and super-ripe and silky tannins. Just a touch of wood showing now (mainly on the finish), this is a very seductive, open, Cannubi that doesn’t take much work to enjoy. The 4th rated Wine of the Night (about 10% of votes), but the people who voted for it were very passionate!

Vietti Barolo Riserva Villero 2004 – The only Riserva of the night from the outstanding 2004 vintage was easily the least open and giving wine we tried and one that generated some controversy. I thought it majestic and towering and, while closed now, likely to be a complete and compelling dark-fruited Barolo in another 10 years. Others wondered if there was enough fruit to complete the integration of oak and sustain the wine while it opens. My Wine of the Night for the future potential, but only one other taster agreed with me!


All in all, a very successful exploration of Nebbiolo across different Piemonte regions, winemaking styles, and vintages. If we can pull it off, we’ll try this again next year focusing on the 2009s.

Most of the wines we tasted are available for purchase, although a few are sold out and most are fairly limited. Below are the prices we offered at the tasting and will be happy to honor for anyone who mentions this write-up. Just call, email, or stop by the store.

– Doug

Note on prices: Sale prices are for single bottles. Six bottle prices are mix/match across these wines. Case prices are for orders of any dozen bottles or more, mix/match.

Ferrando Carema Etichetta Bianca 2008 – Sale $42.98/Six $39.98/Case $37.98

De Forville Barbaresco 2009 – Sale $30.98/Six $29.98/Case $27.98

Vajra Barolo Albe 2008 – Sale $34.98/Six $31.98/Case $29.98

Brovia Barolo Rocche 2008 – SOLD OUT

Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2008 – Sale $79.98/Six $76.98/Case $74.98

Sandrone Barolo La Vigne 2008 – Sale $139.98/Six $129.98/Case $119.98

Damilano Barolo Cannubi 2007 – Sale $80.98/Six $76.98/Case $74.98
Note: Sold out of current inventory; waiting word on possibility of getting more from importer

Vietti Barlo Riserva Villero 2004 – Sale $249.98/Six $229.98/Case $199.98

What We’re Drinking: The Big Classics

When you lead a busy life, balancing friends, work, and a relationship, it’s easy to fall into a cooking rut, even if you’re someone who likes to cook.  You have a few standby recipes that you go to over and over without thinking much about them.  Or, worse, ‘dinner’ ends up being pita chips, hummus, baby carrots, and slightly over the hill white wine.  Not that any of us would do that…

Last week for Valentine’s Day, Lauren decided to bust out of that rut by embarking on a several-day cooking marathon to make an ultra-special dinner for her and her beau.  On the menu was none other than Boeuf Bourguignone, using Julia Child’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  With it she served a Jerome Chezeaux 1er Cru red Burgundy, but to start, she really pulled out all the stops and popped a bottle of Pol Roger 2000.  Served with a spread made from smoked salmon, fresh herbs, and cream cheese, the Pol Roger was toasty, focused, and had the perfect crisp finish to set off the creamy spread.  Yum!

She reports that the whole meal was fantastic, proving that sometimes you just need to go for it.  Pile on the butter, pull out that special bottle, spend all day cooking a crazy, involved recipe.  After all, you only live once!

Diane has been falling in love with another classic wine style, Madeira, and has been enjoying a sip here and there from the same bottle of Charleston Sercial from the Rare Wine Company for the past couple of weeks, proving that Madeira may just be the perfect after-dinner drink for the single guy or gal.  It is basically indestructible – you can keep the same bottle in your refrigerator for weeks on end, and know that the complex aromas and flavors will remain intact.  Perfect with a few nuts and cheese or a nice piece of chocolate after dinner.  If that sounds intriguing to you, join us for an evening of Port and Madeira on March 21st!  This past week we all tried the Broadbent 1996 Colheita, and it was so complex and amazing that we can’t wait to try more from the Broadbent portfolio on the 21st.

So, did you have anything special to celebrate Valentine’s Day or the holiday weekend?  Let us know!

Creating Community, One Sip at a Time

osaat reds 1

When we came up with the schedule for our One Sip at a Time series, we were a bit worried when the second installment happened to fall on Valentine’s Day.  Surely everyone will be having a romantic meal out (or in!) that day, or celebrating in some way.

Well, we were wrong!  The response to all of our classes for this year has been wonderful, but for this class, Tasting and Talking about Reds, it was overwhelming.  We were thrilled that so many of you signed up, and sorry that not everyone who was interested could attend.  If only our classroom were bigger!

It was a great class, as usual, made even better by the festive day, and the fact that so many people dressed in red and pink, which brightened up our rather plain classroom.

This time Doug tested out a new tasting grid, and it seemed to be a big success.  Tasting notes that focus on specific aromas and flavors often leave tasters scratching their heads, especially when obscure fruits and flowers are used (whiff of elderflower, anyone?).  Most Americans have never had a gooseberry, rendering the note most often used in the British wine press to describe Sauvignon Blanc basically useless.  They might as well be talking about snozzberries from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory!

Using this new tasting format allows tasters to focus on intensity of fruit and fruit character, and on big-picture structural elements of a wine like acidity and tannin.  Tasters can focus on the elements of wine that will most influence whether they like or dislike a wine.  The format also lets tasters move through the process of tasting and absorbing a wine more quickly, because no one is becoming stymied in the ‘aroma’ section of the traditional grid, trying to figure out whether the apple aroma they’re smelling is Honeycrisp or Granny Smith (some of us nerds could do this all day, but that’s why we’re in the wine business!).  It also makes it easier to pick out patterns in your likes and dislikes to figure out what kinds of wine you enjoy.

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What has really struck us, though, is that these classes serve a bigger need than the need to feel less awkward when talking to a sommelier in a restaurant.  This is a great thing to know how to do, and is still the goal of these classes, but they’re creating community as well.

In a place like McLean, there aren’t a lot of fun, casual ways to ‘hang out’ that aren’t a bar or a restaurant, where it can be all too easy to overspend.  There’s Starbucks, but with all of the plugged-in laptops, most coffee shops these days feel like an office space than a place to connect.

We’re desperate here in the suburbs for a ‘third place,’ to meet new people, to learn, to connect, in a low-pressure environment.  Our classes seem to be doing this for many of you.  Participants are becoming ‘regulars’ at our classes, are bringing friends and family members, and lingering after the class is over to chat with us and each other.

We couldn’t be happier to see this happening.  Most of us get into the wine business not just because we love wine, but because we love how wine makes people happy and brings them together.  Watching this happen right here in our little basement classroom is more thrilling than any expensive bottle, grand tasting, or exciting trip.

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So, what can we do to keep this going beyond our monthly One Sip at a Time classes? Let us know!

What Really Goes With Chocolate?

I had a great teacher who, when teaching a food and wine pairing class, said that chocolate and Cabernet are one of those terrible combinations that seem like they should be great, but really aren’t.  They’re both dark and rich and sexy – what could go wrong?  Quite a bit, as it turns out.  Chocolate’s sweetness clashes with a dry wine like Cabernet, making it taste bitter and sour.  Many food and wine pairing rules are meant to be broken, but I have a lot of eating and drinking under my belt, not to mention quite the sweet tooth, and I’ve only seen this work once, with a very talented chef.  I’ve learned the hard way that I am many things, but a future contestant on Top Chef is not one of them.

So, what does go with chocolate?

Port is a classic choice, and ruby Port is especially nice with dark chocolate.  So, break out a nice half bottle of vintage Port with, say, a dark chocolate bar from Double Premium Confections (we’ve got special ones this week decorated with hearts that are 20% off their regular price!), and be very happy.

DPC V Day Pic Web

Who is that pretty lady, and why is she playing badminton?  We’re not sure, but with a lighter or creamier dessert like that Valentine’s Day classic chocolate mousse, you can’t go wrong with Fracchia Voulet.  This sweet, fizzy, low-alcohol wine is fun and festive, and its delightful pink froth is just so romantic.

The most hands-down romantic, decadent choice, though, especially if you’ve got some chocolate covered strawberries (hey, some cliches exist for a reason!), is this gorgeous off-dry rose Champagne from Jean Vesselle.  This beauty is full of gorgeous Pinot fruit and just happens to be a bit sweet.  It proves that Champagne doesn’t have to be dry to be sophisticated.

Have any slam-dunk chocolate pairings or romantic Valentine’s Day plans?  Let us know!


What We’re Drinking

Diane enjoyed a glass of one of this past weekend’s featured wines, the Brovia 2008, a blend of four of their vineyard sites using younger vines, with a few slices of Piave, a delicious semi-firm Italian cheese.  It was a fantastic pairing, and brought back memories of her recent trip to the estate.  Brovia is a Barolo estate for Burgundy lovers – rather than power, the wines all put elegance and purity of fruit front and center – as you can see from those large casks, these wines are not about oak and flash!  The 2008 is perfumed, accessible, sweetly-fruited, and just plain delicious.

alex sanchez

Randy enjoyed the Grammys with a celeriac soup, swirled with creme fraiche and topped with a few chiles.  With this delicious concoction, he pulled out a bottle of the 2010 Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Forets.  Subtle, elegant, with intense minerality, this is a wine that has a long life ahead of it, but is delicious now as well.  Stay tuned for news on the 2011 single-vineyard releases from Louis Michel – they are not to be missed!  We’ve got the 2011 village Chablis in stock if this has got you itching for a preview.

Last night Doug opened a relatively new wine for us, the Joseph Puig 2011 Montsant, and reports that it was a cheery companion to steak sandwiches with caramelized onions, charred red peppers and swiss cheese.  The flavors are juicy and uncomplicated now, but this will be peaking just in time for hamburger grilling season.  We can’t wait!

So, what are you drinking?

How to Find Your House Wine

We had quite the weekend here at the shop.  In the space of about 36 hours, we sold through this entire mountain of juicy, easy-drinking Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao.

borsao garnacha

When a promotion is this successful, it tells us something.  One, that you’re looking for good value, and two, that you’re looking for something to stock up on for everyday meals and gatherings.  In other words, a house wine.  We’ll  have the Borsao Garnacha back in stock in about a month, but there’s no need to wait until then to find your next house wine.

As much fun as it is to explore the wide, wonderful world of wine, there’s something to be said for familiarity.  Like your favorite meatloaf, a glass of your favorite simple, everyday wine can be a comforting end to the day.  Having a good supply of everyday wine you know you like can also be a blessing when unexpected guests drop by, giving you one less thing to think about.  Plus, it makes you seem like one of those casually sophisticated people you read about in magazines, who always have the perfect little wine to pull out, along with an imported tapenade that would make Ina Garten proud.

But with all of the wine out there, how do you choose your personal ‘go to’ wine for everyday meals and gatherings?

Food Matters.  The first thing to consider is the kind of food you eat.  Do you cook a lot of stick-to-your-ribs classic dishes?  Look for fuller-bodied reds as your go-to.  Asian food?  Consider an aromatic varietal like Riesling.  Lighter, vegetable-centric dishes?  Try a nice, crisp Italian white.  While achieving wine and food pairing nirvana probably isn’t possible (or even really desirable) on a Tuesday, you can match to the general style of the food you eat the most.

…Except When it Doesn’t.  That said, you should also consider how you drink wine.  If you generally drink wine only with food, then some basic wine and food pairing rules apply.  But if having a glass by itself while you’re watching The Daily Show is more your speed, then look for fuller-bodied whites like California Chardonnay or Viognier, and fruitier, lusher reds without a lot of tannin or structure like a Garnacha from Spain.

Stock Up.  Whichever style of wine you choose, buying in volume is always the way to go.  We offer a 10% discount on full cases (unless a wine is already on sale), and we frequently offer specials on full cases of good-value wines.  In fact, people are often surprised when we tell them that the under $12 category is the one we work the hardest on when it comes to tasting and choosing what’s on the shelves, but it’s really true.  For every inexpensive Chardonnay you see on the shelf, rest assured that we tasted and rejected at least 20 others.  There’s a lot of disappointing wine out there, and some days we feel as though we’ve tasted it all!

Location, Location, Location.  One important thing to keep in mind is that certain regions do value better than others: Spain, Chile, and the south of France are all good places to look for wines that give you a great bang for your buck.  Regions that are small and famous, like the Napa Valley and Burgundy, are regions where you get what you pay for, with a few rare exceptions.  Another thing to keep in mind is that oak really drives up the cost of wine.  A new French oak barrel is well over $1000!  Because of this, whites and reds that are unoaked tend to be more reliable values.  If you’re stuck at a wedding reception or happy hour with limited choices, go with the Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio – it probably won’t change your life, but it won’t be badly doctored with oak chips, either.

And don’t forget to keep a bottle or two of inexpensive sparkling in the fridge – when it’s already chilled, you’ll be surprised by how often you find reasons to celebrate!

Changes are Afoot!

If you stop in this week, you might notice that some of your favorites aren’t where you remember them.  Don’t worry, you’re not going crazy – we’re rearranging the store!

reset baskets

It all started with one of our new favorite Pinot Noirs from Vajra.  This juicy, crowd-pleasing Pinot from the famous Barolo producer made us think of the Sta. Rita Hills just as much as it made us think of Italy.  So, we decided to try sneaking it in with the other Pinot Noirs from California and Oregon as well as shelving it in its geographic home over in the Italy section.  Lo and behold, we found ourselves suggesting it to customers more than twice as much, because it was shelved with wines that tasted like it, not just wines that were grown in the same country.

We realized that by laying out the store according to where wines are from, we’re limiting what we suggest to you, especially when it comes to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  By placing Burgundy by itself in the back, we made it into the ‘scary expensive corner,’ and that’s the last thing we want to do with one of our favorite styles of wine!

Now, the store will be arranged largely by grape varietal, or at least grape varietal family, so Cabernets and Merlots will be near their Old-World counterparts from Bordeaux, and all of the wines made from “Rhonish” varietals like Grenache and Syrah/Shiraz, will be together.  We realized that this is how you think about wine, and it’s how we think when we’re suggesting wine for you to take home.  Rather than drag you all over the store to look at different styles of Chardonnay, why not have them all in one place?

reset javier and randy

Let us know what you think of the new layout, and be sure to thank Randy and Javier for all their hard work lugging around all those bottles.  As they say, those darn bottles wouldn’t be so heavy if they weren’t so full of wine!