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!

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.

Barroche bottles.jpg

The Key to Affordable (and Magical!) Champagne

“How in the world can a wine this good, a Champagne that spent a huge six years on the lees, be so very, very, affordable?”

Charels Clement cuvee speciale

Charles Clement Cuvee Speciale tastes like $70 Champagne, yet retails for under $40.

Today we’re offering two champagnes from Charles Clement. The Charles Clement Cuvee Speciale and its toasty sibling, the Cuvee Tradition Brut have been delivering high-end Champagne delight at almost Prosecco-like prices for a couple of years here at Chain Bridge Cellars.

But why are they so affordable?

Chalres Clement HistoryFounded as a Co-op. A big part of the answer to that is how Charles Clement is organized and what it doesn’t do. The winery was born in 1956 when 22 growers in Champagne’s Aube region joined together to buy a wine press, allowing them to move from selling grapes to delivering fermented wine to the big Champagne houses.

As the number of members grew, so did their ambition. Under the leadership of fellow grower Charles Clement, they purchased cellar space, a bottling line, and – in 1972 – released their first bottled Champagne.

And Still a Co-Op Today. Today the cooperative remains owned by its 59 farmers who tend vines covering 110 hectares across the Aube.Charels Clement people today2

Since the coop members own their vineyards and winery, they don’t have to charge themselves the high prices the big name houses pay for most of their grapes/base wine. They are easily able to sell almost all their production in France, where Champagne-lovers drink what they like and appreciate a good value.

So Charles Clement doesn’t have to buy expensive advertising, pay celebrities to drink their wine at fancy clubs, or hide inferior juice in faux leather carrying bags.

All they do is grow good grapes, make fine wine, and allow time in the bottle to do its magic. You can try it yourself anytime this week (today seems like a good idea!) and mix/match with the outstanding value Cuvee Tradition for best in the nation savings.

Pretty magical indeed!

 

A Closer Look at France’s Moselle

Marie-Geneviève and Norbert MolozayAs is often the case, this week’s featured white, Ch de Vaux Moselle Blanc Les Gryphées, extra delicious in the 2018 vintage, has us wanting to explore a relatively unknown wine region: Moselle.

Marie-Geneviève and Norbert Molozay discovered this tiny French region – 100 acres in total – and purchased and revitalized the best estate there in 1999.

Sparkling History. Moselle was an important wine region in the 1700 and 1800s, producing mainly Pinot Noir used to make Champagne in Reims, to the east, or sparkling Sekt in Germany (between the Franco-Prussian war and WWI). The creation of the Champagne AOC, which eliminated Moselle grapes, the arrival of phylloxera, and heavy industrialization together essentially wiped out vine growing and wine making here from the 1920s on.

Moselle MapDespite the collapse of its major French and German sparkling wine markets, an eccentric history teacher, one Jean-Marie Diligent, kept Ch de Vaux going through the mid-20th century with a new focus on making and bottling their own still wines.

Seeing Potential. Which is where things stood when Norbert Molozay – a native of Beaujolais and graduate of the wine school in Dijon – and Marie-Genevieve Molozay – from a wine merchant family in nearby Metz – discovered it in 1999.

They saw the potential and invested heavily to realize it. They expanded Ch de Vaux’s holding (they now own about one-third of the AOC’s vines) and converted to organic farming to improve quality. Since 2014, they have been Demeter certified biodynamic farmers and also certified vegan – meaning no animal products are used in any element of winemaking.

Ch de Vaux Moselle Blanc Les Gryphées labelCh de Vaux Moselle Blanc Les Gryphées 2018, their lead white, shows the results of all that hard work. It’s a blend of Alsace grapes – 30% Auxerrois, 30% Muller Thurgau (a crossing of Riesling and Chasselas), 30% Tokay Pinot Gris and 10% Gewurztraminer. The vines grow on rocky terraces covered with clay and limestone with a south/southeast exposure. Each grape variety is fermented separately to full dryness in temperature controlled stainless steel before bottling clear, fresh, and invigorating.

 

Ch de Vaux Moselle Blanc Les Gryphées