Distinctive and Delicious Malbecs from Mendoza

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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!

Great Vintages, Brilliant Wines at Beaujolais’ Ch Thivin

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Claude Geoffray of Ch Thivin in Burgundy’s Beaujolais

There’s going to be quite an argument about which of the past five vintages is the “greatest ever” in Beaujolais.

Vintage 2014 delivered classic, vibrant, elegant wines that capture the essence of Gamay’s juicy joy. Harvest 2015 added much deeper, riper fruit and more density than usual, but with no loss of energy or minerality. Vintage 2016 brought things back to a more elegant style while 2017 showed more flesh and breadth. And 2018 delivered flesh and body with no loss of vivacity and style.

What will broach no argument is that Ch Thivin made utterly brilliant wines in all five years, continuing to cement their place among the very best in all of Beaujolais – arguably, among the best in Burgundy as a whole.

From 1383 to Today
chateau-thivin-domaine-mont-brouillyThe estate founded in 1383 and purchased by the Geoffray family in 1877. The chateau (yes, there really is one), winery and the estate’s best vineyards perch on the sides of an extinct volcano called Mont Brouilly.

The volcano’s very steep slope – around 40 degrees in the heart of the vineyard – provides excellent drainage, fantastic exposure to the sun, and the platform for the Geoffray family’s modern gravity-flow winery.

Ch Thivin photo of vineyards.jpgThe estate’s best vineyards perch on the sides of an extinct volcano called Mont Brouilly. When others in Beaujolais chased quick and easy cash in the Beaujolais Nouveau boom of the 1970s and 1980s, the Geoffray family just kept on making fine wine. Vineyards are plowed to create healthier soils, no insecticides are used, and grapes are harvested and sorted by hands.

Whole bunches of ripe, juicy Gamay grapes roll by gravity into tanks where fermentation starts naturally with no additions of yeast or enzymes or anything else. After a day, rosé tanks are pressed gently and finish fermentation in stainless steel. Reds soak for a week or so before pressing and racking into large, old, wood casks and bottling six months later. And for these wines, that’s it.

A Kermit Lynch Discovery
Ch Thivin was long well-known as one of Beaujolais’s great estates within France, but pretty much unheard of in the US until the 1970s. That’s when importer Kermit Lynch first visited the Domaine and made it one his earliest imports to the USA. And his description of Ch Thivin today is still the best summing up we can offer. Thivin’s wines, he says, are:

“a country squire who is not afraid to get his boots muddy. Handsome, virile, earthy, and an aristocrat.” – Kermit Lynch

About 98.7% of Wine Drinkers Don’t Do This

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About 98.7% of you don’t drink enough Riesling. At least that’s our unscientific estimate. And we think Austria’s dry but ripe and fruity Riesling is the wine to change that

Ask any Austrian winegrower, sommelier or critic and they’ll be quick to tell you that – as nice as Grüner Veltiner can be – Riesling is Austria’s finest white grape, hands down. And Austrian Riesling is the most delicious and best-value way to get to know the world’s most under-appreciated vine.

Riesling can vary dramatically between regions and countries. German Riesling is either sweet (delicious, but unnerving to American drinkers) or dry and searingly acidic (but in a good way). Alsace Riesling is usually dry, but can feel oily and rich despite the lack of residual sugar. But Austrian Riesling serves up the ripe and generous fruit flavors of the best wines of Germany with the attractive fleshiness of Alsace wines and the crisp, dry, finish of German Trocken bottlings.

Austria’s Wachau
And the best place in Alsace to find these “unicorn” Rieslings is in the Wachau. As Master of Wine Jancis Robinson writes,

“The Wachau in Austria rivals Alsace and the Mosel for the purity of its Rieslings, except that these wonderfully characterful, bone dry, sculpted wines tend to have more in the way of body and alcohol.”

Josef Bauer Riesling FeuersbrunnThat’s a fine description of Josef Bauer Riesling Feuersbrunn 2017, one of the very best wines (red or white!) I tasted during my last visit to Austria in early 2018.

Like all great Riesling, it smells great: aromas of tangerine, fresh peach, lime skin and peach blossom really jump from the glass. In the mouth its flavors of orange, lime, peach and wet stone minerality really drive across your palate, delivering bold flavors without excess weight (it’s just 12.2% alcohol). For all the fruit, there’s nothing “sweet” about this wine, including the long, dry, mouthwatering finish that leaves notes of fruit blossom and fresh lime lingering on and on.

In the hands of a more famous estate – think Prager or Pichler – this would be a $30 Riesling and worth every cent of that. But Joe Bauer is a much more humble guy, more interested in continuing his family’s winegrowing tradition and passing that along to his children than seeking fame and high prices. And our good friend, Klaus Wittauer, gets this to us with minimal mark-ups and add ons so it can sell for a song.

We’d love to get that 98.7% of under-Riesling-drinkers down to, say, 97.2%. So come by this Friday (3-7pm) and Saturday (noon-4pm) (March 15 and 16), and try Josef Bauer Riesling Feuersbrunn 2017 for yourself!

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!

Bodegas Borsao: Old Vines, Modern Quality

Bodegas BorsaoSpain’s Bodegas Borsao has been famous for delivering great values from the arid Campo de Borgia region for years. As Robert Parker explained a few years ago,

“This is a marvelous consumer resource for high quality wines selling at absurdly low prices. I often ask myself, if I had known wines like this existed when I began my career 33 years ago, would I have even considered trying to find great wines at low prices? This has been one of my “go-to” wineries for many years, given their relationship between quality and price. Once you taste these wines, you will probably ask the same question many people have – why do I need to spend more?”

The secret to Borsao’s success is a solid commitment by the 620 growers who own the co-op to grow and vinify the best Garnacha (called Grenache in France) in the world.

Small Crops, Intense Ripeness
Borsao windowTheir vineyards are all located on the chalky, stony soils of Campo de Borgia, where lack of rain and searingly hot summers force Garnacha to work hard to produce small crops of intensely ripe berries. Cool nights and old vines keep the ripe fruit balanced with fine acidity and a streak of refreshing minerality.

While the exact blend varies from year to year, the 2017 Borsao is mainly Garnacha – the grape the French named “Grenache” after it landed in the Rhone from Spain centuries ago. There’s usually a splash of Tempranillo and sometimes a dollop of Syrah, all coming from 15-25 year-old head-trained vines. The ripe fruit is fermented and aged entirely in temperature controlled stainless steel to capture the grape’s inherent freshness and vigor.

With Food, On its Own, or at Parties
borsao vineWhat does it taste like? Really, really good and with a touch more concentration, length and freshness than we’ve ever tasted here before. It’s a medium-bodied mouthful of dark cherries, raspberries, violets, and a touch of earthy licorice. There’s enough structure – mouthwatering acidity and fine-grained tannin – to make this a great “food wine” and allow it to blossom further for 2-3 more years.

But it’s round, rich, and just flat-out fun enough to open and enjoy anytime you want a guilt-free glass of red wine deliciousness.

And, if you’re looking for wine for a big party or a wedding, you’ll rest easy knowing that Borsao Garnacha is a crowd pleaser, bold enough for fans of “big reds” but finessed and easy enough for guests who want something lighter and softer. And, when you put it on the table with burgers, pork, lamb, or pretty much anything else, you’ll love how it opens up and complements most any food.

As critic Josh Raynolds said of the 2009 edition of Borsao Garnacha, at the $9 release price, “It sounds like a broken record, but this is another remarkable value from Borsao.” From $6.98/ea by the case, the value can’t be beat!

Still the “Young” Paul D

Paul DirederThis marks the 11th consecutive vintage we’ve encouraged you to try the wines of “young” Paul Direder – and the only reason we get to keep on using the “young” descriptor is that when we first met and tasted with Paul, he was only 17 years-old!

Paul grew up in a farming family in Austria’s Wagram region, watching his grandfather work the fields of grapes, grains and vegetables from infancy. As Paul likes to say, his first word wasn’t “mama” but “Dador” – “tractor” – something that fascinated him as his grandfather worked the farm and took him to equipment shows.

At the ripe old age of 16, Paul persuaded his mother to co-sign a lease with him and began taking over his grandfather’s vineyards. No one in the family had ever made wine commercially, so Paul persuaded his Wagram neighbor (and family friend) Anton Bauer to let him work in the Bauer cellars and learn. And, though Bauer, he met importer Klaus Wittauer just before he bottled his second vintage of Paul D Grüner Veltliner.

Lip-smacking, Mouthwatering Fun
Paul D Gruner LabelWe first tasted that wine, the 2008 Paul D Grüner, in the summer of 2009 and were immediately impressed with the big flavors, generous texture, and the stunning value – a very attractive $8.99 retail price for a full 1.0 liter of lip-smacking, mouthwatering fun! At the time, Paul spoke almost no English, so it took us a bit to understand why he wasn’t tasting the wine with us – at 17 years-old, he wasn’t legal! We’ve carried the wine ever since, though, and never been disappointed.

Over the course of a couple of visits with Paul at his tidy, pocket-sized Wagram winery, his continued growth in skill, confidence, and production were all immediately clear. Yes, he’s still a bit boyish looking (he’d certainly be carded at our store!), bursting with youthful enthusiasm, and lets his mother, wife, and charming baby act as hosts to a visiting group. But he also clearly knows what he wants to do and how to do it.

The common thread you’ll find in all Paul D wines is frank, fresh, fruitiness married to fine crispness and plenty of flavor and length. If you want to pay attention to them, there’s more than enough going on to hold you interest, especially if you care about texture and finish.

But, like Paul himself, all are really about enthusiasm, joyfulness, and fun. Which is a lot to get from $8.98!  (This is a Carryout Case Special for the weekend of July 27-29, 2018. No email, web or phone orders at this case price through the weekend.)

A New AOC for France, and for Plantevin ‘La Daurelle’!

While we love all of Philippe Plantevin’s wines, his special Cotes du Rhone Villages “La Daurelle” cuvee has always been our favorite. But a continuation of Philippe’s skillful winegrowing and winemaking – plus some changes triggered by the elevation of Philippe’s Village of Cairanne to AOC status – come together this year to create the best “La Daurelle” ever!

As you may know, France’s Southern Rhone region has four levels of classification:

  • Cotes du Rhone – a wine from anywhere in the Cotes du Rhone region
  • Cotes du Rhone Villages – a wine from one of the 95 or so hamlets judged to be a cut above the average CdR vineyard land; “La Daurelle” is in this category
  • Cotes du Rhone Villages with Village Name – Like Philippe’s Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan, from one of the 22 or so villages judged to be better still and to have a unique character or style
  • AOC/AOP – A village that stands on its own as one of France’s great terriors; think Lirac, Vacqueyras, Gigondas and – most famous of all – Chateauneuf du Pape.

Elevation from Villages to AOC Means New Name for La Daurelle
plantevin-sainte-cecile-bottle.jpgIn vintage 2016, after years of evaluation and regulatory approvals, the village where Philippe’s home, winery and main vineyards lie was elevated from Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne to AOC Cairanne. In celebration of this change, Philippe decided he wanted all of his wines to showcase their place of origin. So he’s decided to rename the wine we’ve always called La Daurelle – named for Philippe’s home in Cairanne – as cuvee Saint Cecile after the village of Sainte Cécile les Vignes where the vineyard is located.

With the name change comes a change in blend, as the lower-quality Carignan and sometimes difficult to ripen Mourvedre are dropped in favor of Grenache (40%) and a much bigger dollop of Syrah (60%). Everything else remains the same. The wine ferments in tank at warm temperatures and stay on the skins and seeds for up to 20 days to ensure generous extraction of color, flavor and tannin.

Then, to balance the big extraction, the wine ages in one to five year-old French oak casks, all about twice the size of a typical Burgundy barrel (500 liters). Larger, older, barrels don’t add any oaky flavor to the wine. Instead, they allow a slow, steady, exposure to oxygen bleeding into the wine through the wood to soften a bit while gaining rich, meaty, complexity.

Meet Philippe
philippe plantevinPhilippe may not be the flashiest winemaker in the Rhone, and his domaine north of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is easily overlooked. But, while Philippe is a pretty quiet, even modest, guy, there’s plenty of intensity and passion for making great wine here too. Philippe’s family grew grapes and made a little wine in the vineyards around the Southern Rhone village of Cairanne but sold all their fruit and wine to the local coop. In 1993, the young Philippe decided he could do better.

He and his wife bought an 18th century coach house (now lovingly restored) and built a very traditional Rhone winery there – a little stainless steel, but mainly concrete tanks for fermentation and aging. Over time, he acquired vineyards in Cairanne itself, in the surrounding town of Visan, and also to the south in Vaucluse, just outside the Cotes du Rhone AOC.

Philippe is a practical grape farmer, making minimal use of chemical sprays, training his vines low to the ground, and accepting the low yields needed for fine wine making in his rocky vineyards. Old-vine Grenache makes up the backbone for all of Philippe’s reds, with low-yielding, small-berried, Syrah adding color, meaty notes, and black fruits. In the winery, things are very traditional – long fermentations (10-30 days) in steel and concrete with regular pump overs to extract color and structure.

The resulting wines are very fine from top to bottom, but Philippe is too picky to bottle everything he makes. Instead, every year, he chooses his favorite tanks of wine to bottle with his label and sells the rest to top Rhone negotiants like Guigal. If it has his label on it, it’s because the wine is very, very good.

A Great Harvest – Southern Rhone Vintage 2016
Philippe’s are the first important Southern Rhone reds we’re bringing you from vintage 2016 – but they will not be the last. In a season of very sunny, warm, dry days and bitingly cool nights, 2016 in the Southern Rhone promises to be one of the great, great harvests. Some early comments from critics give you a taste of what to expect:

“These are wines that combine immense power (and sometimes alcohol levels) with elegance, perhaps most similar to the reds from 2010 or 1990. It will be a vintage to buy and cellar.” – Wine Advocate Issue 233

“The 2016s are on another level. The wines are beautifully concentrated and structured – on par with 2010 – yet have a more open, sexy, voluptuous style due to the larger yields. The tannin quality is beautiful, the wines have notable freshness and purity, their alcohol is integrated, and quality is incredibly high across all the regions. This is truly an extraordinary vintage.” Jeb Dunnuck (former Wine Advocate critic)

We’ll be showcasing top 2016 Rhone reds as they arrive. Many will be great wines. None will be more exciting or better value than this set of releases from Philippe Plantevin.