Introducing Lower ABV Wine Selections

Lower ABV SelectionsMore and more often, we hear you ask, “What do you recommend for lower-alcohol reds?” Because while 14.8% Napa Cab and 15% Chateauneuf du Pape certainly has its place, sometimes something a little lighter, fresher, and easier to simply sip appeals.

Of course, you want lower alcohol – not lower levels of quality, satisfaction and deliciousness. Wines like today’s featured Cavalchina Bardolino 2016!

So when we’re tasting and evaluating wines for the store, our first question is, “Does this taste great?” Followed by, “Will our customers love it too?” More and more often, that brings us a range of wines that are full of flavor and delight but a touch lower in heft and alcohol.

So the next time you come into the store, take a look at our shelf tags. Where you see the blue “Lower ABV” emblem, you’ll know the wine is 13.3% or lower alcohol by volume (“ABV”).

Or you can click this link to see our Lower ABV wines online!

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The “Insider” Family Champagne House

Ar Lenoble and glassChampagne is big business, and today most Champagne houses – producers who make their own sparkling wine from fruit they grow and purchase from neighbors – are either very large or owned by bigger houses, insurance companies or global luxury goods firms.

AR Lenoble is different. Although they are one of the smallest houses remaining in Champagne, they have remained independent and family owned and run for more than 100 years. The brother and sister team of Antoine and Anne Malssagne (grandchildren of the founder) head a team of just 11 employees that’s building, as JancisRobinson.com wrote, “probably the most admired boutique family house right now.”

A Clear Focus
Anne and Antoine of LenobleSince taking over the house in 2001, Antoine and Anne have focused not on making “consistent” Champagnes in a static “house style,” but instead on making better and better Champagne every year. They started with a clear focus on their most important vineyard holding, 10 hectares of pure, chalky soils planted to Chardonnay in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly. As they’ve written:

“The expression of Chouilly defines who we are and what we do at AR Lenoble. Chouilly is one of only 17 Grand Cru villages in Champagne and one of only 6 known for Chardonnay. AR Lenoble is one of few producers to use 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay from Chouilly in every single one of our wines.”

To strengthen the quality of their fruit in Chouilly and also in the 1er Cru village of Bisseuil (Pinot Noir) and their Marne holdings in Damery (Pinot Meunier), the Malssagne’s launched an intensive farming improvement program. Using strict pruning, green harvests (cutting off bunches before ripening begins), and allowing cover crops to grow in competition with the vines, AR Lenoble boasts some of the lowest yields in Champagne.

The quality commitment continues in the winery. AR Lenoble uses only juice from the first pressing of the grapes – the “Cuvee” – and never uses any of the permitted second pressing – the Taille. After fermentation, about 30% of each vintage’s wine is held back and added to a “perpetual reserve” that mixes wines from 2001/2002 onward. Some of the reserve ages in tank, but most spends time in either small (225 liter) or large (5,000 liter) neutral French oak for more complexity still.

Retaining Champagne Character in the Face of Global Warming
Over the past 10 years, Antoine and Anne have faced a new challenge – how to retain Champagne’s classic balance, purity and freshness in the face of a warming climate, higher grape ripeness levels, and earlier and earlier harvests.

In the vineyards, AR Lenoble became one of the early adopters of HVE (Haute Valeur Environnementale) farming standards. HVE farming was pioneered by Ambonnay’s Eric Rodez and moves growing as close to organic standards as possible in Champagne’s difficult growing conditions. Using extensive cover crops, reducing sprays, and promoting greater biodiversity in the soil and vineyard forces the vines to work harder and dig deeper to ripen grapes. This lengthens the growing season (more flavor!) and brings grapes to harvest readiness at lower sugar levels and higher acidity (more freshness!).

More Radical Still
And, in the winery, Antoine and Anne did something more radical still. In 2010, they withdrew a portion of their perpetual reserve, bottled it in magnum bottles, added enough sugar and yeast to develop about 1.5 bars of pressure (vs 4 bars for finished Champagne) and then closed the magnums with natural cork.

By holding in magnum under light pressure, AR Lenoble has been able to add even more complexity (from aging on the light lees) while locking in even more vibrancy and freshness in their reserves. As Anne has explained,

“Climate change is a reality. The challenge for the future is to be able to bring as much freshness as possible to our reserve wines. At the end of each harvest, we observe that acidity levels are much lower than they used to be. Reserve wines now need to add complexity and richness but also freshness.”

Following the 2014 harvest, Antoine decided the reserves in magnum were ready to use. He began by blending 40% reserve wines into the 2014 vintage base wines destined for the Brut Intense and Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV bottlings. That blend then went into bottle for secondary fermentation and spent three full years resting on the lees to integrate and develop even more complexity.

When ready to ship, the wines were given their usual cuvee names plus a new, special, designation. “Mag 14” on the bottle tells you that the wines are based on vintage 2014 and include reserve wines aged in magnum. And one taste will tell you that all the extra work and time was worth it!

 

Surprise: The Wines of Basketball’s Yao Ming

Yao MingBasketball great Yao Ming having his second career in the wine business? It was news to us, and we admit, it’s a bit too easy to have fun with this new-to-us wine from Yao Family Vineyards. Words like towering, slam-dunk and a tall order come all to easily when it comes to a fine value Napa Red, on sale for under $40 by the case, having earned a 94 point rating.

How did Ming get into wine? It began with his introduction to Texas steakhouses by teammate Dikembe Mutombo and growing love of how smooth and rich Napa Cabernet enhanced those meals.

As he explains,

Yao-Ming21“A shared bottle of wine reminds me of Chinese meals at home, which are served on what Americans call a ‘Lazy Susan.’ The food is placed in the middle of the table and shared. In the US, each person chooses their own meal, so the wine is what brings people together. It is shared and brings a common element to the meal.”

“High Class Wines.”
Ming’s first effort in Napa – working with industry veteran Tom Hinde – were high-end Napa Cabs. When Robert Parker tasted these two 2010 efforts, he reported, “I am aware of all the arguments that major celebrities lending their names to wines is generally a formula for mediocrity, but that is not the case with Yao Ming. These are high class wines. The two Cabernets are actually brilliant, and the Reserve bottling ranks alongside just about anything made in Napa.”

Yao Family Napa Crest - Proprietary RedA few years later, Ming and Hinde introduced the Napa Crest label to offer stylish wines at solid (for Napa) value price points. The wine we’re offering this week is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (65%), Merlot (25%) and Petit Verdot from Yao Ming’s Estate vineyards in Oakville and St. Helena plus select plots further north and in the cooler southern part of the Valley. Long skin contact (19-34 days) and warm fermentations extracted plenty of color, richness and heft. About 16 months in 50% new/50% used French oak adds polish and spice.

This wine offers fabulous depth and texture, the delicious richness, and the smoothly tannic finish, all delivered without any apparent excess of effort or flash. Which is a perfect match for both Yao Ming’s basketball playing style … and his ambition in forming Yao Ming Family Wines back in 2011.