No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

One could be forgiven for expecting an overdose of “yes, I did in fact write those checks” bullsh*t when visiting Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in Oregon’s Applegate Valley, based solely on the facts that

a) it takes its name from the most infamous preparation (#500, which involves burying a cow’s horn full of manure) in wine’s most infamous set of farming practices (Biodynamics), and

b) founders Barbara and Bill Steele are former CFO/CFA financial types who, after leaving Wall Street and before establishing Cowhorn (despite not having a single lick of winegrowing experience) lived what they call a “homeopathic lifestyle in Marin County.”

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

Cowhorn co-fouder Barbara Steele

One’s skepticism about the Steele’s seriousness regarding their 25-or-so acres of vines and 4,000-or-so case production could be forgiven, but one’s skepticism would also be quite wrong. I mean, you’ll want to be skeptical about, for example, the earnestness of Bill Steele’s long hair, but then you’ll find out that he makes his own sulfites. And that the Steele’s spent two years researching the right place to plant vines before breaking ground on Cowhorn in 2002, planning on Biodynamics viticulture from the get-go (with Alan York consulting), and despite its under-the-radar status and various environmental challenges (ripening is actually the main challenge there, as they are farming Rhône varieties, and the cold air from the surrounding hills makes this a cooler spot by Applegate standards) chose Southern Oregon anyway.

And then there’s the farming mentality employed at Cowhorn, which feels downright legit when the Steele’s are waxing philosophic about it; as Barbara put it, “It’s the people behind it that makes this kind of viticulture possible for the Applegate Valley.” Even their yeast situation is kind of endearing; Bill mentioned that that six unique strains were identified there, primarily due to the 100+ acres of property having been left isolated so long before the Steele’s bought it.

And then… then you’ll taste their wines, which all have a consistent and defining element of being well-crafted and yet still characterful; not overly polished, showing their edginess and angularity while still retaining a sense of elegance. In other words, the only thing full of bullsh*t will be your own silly preconceived notions about their outfit…

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Cowhorn Spiral 36 White (Applegate Valley, $28)

Yes, the “spiral” in the name is (predictably) an homage to the notion of the vortex in Biodynamic preparations (and including the vineyard block numbers of the fruit sources). A blend of primarily Marsanne, with Viognier and Roussane rounding it out, mostly co-fermented, with twenty percent new oak, this is a white that elegantly straddles the line between easy sipping and complex contemplation. It’s mineral, peachy, floral, and has length that outpaces its sub-$30 price-point.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2016 Cowhorn Reserve Viognier (Applegate Valley, $50)

This barrel selection release is sold out, so you’ll likely have to wait for subsequent vintages, which kind of sucks, because as Brian Steele put it, this white hails from “that magical barrel” and while I didn’t see any witchcraft performed during my visit, after tasting this I’m not ruling out the barrel actually having some magical powers. The wine seems younger than its still-youthful two years; it’s taught, herbal, floral and, despite not having undergone malolactic fermentation, has ample body and broadness to its textural mouthfeel and ripe pear flavors.

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2015 Cowhorn Vineyard Grenache 53 (Applegate Valley, $45)

When it comes to Grenache, Bill Steele warned that “too light, too fruity, and you’re into Kool-Aid land.” Thankfully, no one will be jumping through brick walls screaming “Ohhhh YEAH!” when tasting this one… or will they? Anyway, it avoids the Kool-Aid trap entirely, though it absolutely is peppery, lithe, spritely, and spicy, with clean and bright berry fruitiness without ignoring its earthy, stemmy, structured side.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2014 Cowhorn Vineyard Syrah 8 (Applegate Valley, $45)

About 800 cases of this Syrah were made, and each one is probably on the verge of bursting from its muscular, sinewy seriousness. Mineral-driven, with dark berries and even darker dried herb and spice aromas, things get earthy here very quickly, but maintain a sense of aromatic lift.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2013 Cowhorn Vineyard Syrah 21 (Applegate Valley, $45)

At this point, I was getting sick of the numbers, too, but it was nice to get a feel for what a slightly older vintage of Cowhorn’s reds could do after some repose in the bottle (and for this release, the 21 refers to the number of frost days they encountered during the season). Interestingly, this red saw 40% new oak and 40% whole cluster, which lends more peppery and cedar spice action to the mix, on top of earth, and berries galore. It’s funky, meaty, fresh, and vibrant Syrah, with nice textural grip; a great one for the Foodie set and the just-gimmie-a-good-red set alike.

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2014 Cowhorn Sentience (Applegate Valley, $55)

This one is billed as Cowhorn’s “winemaker’s blend,” with 35% whole cluster and 35% new oak. It’s the silky, rich, round, sexy cousin of their Syrah-based lineup, and while it retains some of the muscular structure of the 8 and 21, there is no denying all of that “bedroom eyes” fruitiness here.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2014 Cowhorn Reserve Syrah (Applegate Valley, $75)

Blackberries and a lithe, peppery, spicy profile are the hallmarks of this characterful, brambly stunner. The acids are jumping, the meatiness is present, the structure is at turns burly and refined. Basically, 200 cases of balanced presentation, in which there is plenty of edginess but not at the expense of a clean, clear, and powerful approach. In case you’re wondering, the 2013 is even better; it’s superb, with the plummy, meaty, and spicy/sage/pepper/cedar expressions opening up a bit more with age and fronting a finish that is minutes long.

Cheers!

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Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

You know that your brand is in trouble when, instead of talking about your forty-plus-year history in a nascent wine region, or your long hours of sun, 1300-foot vineyard elevation, diurnal temperature shifts of over fifty degrees Fahrenheit, or any of the other factors that make your terroir an ideal place for ripening interesting grape varieties, all anyone can mention is how your family business heir apparent allegedly got blowies during a commercial airplane flight.

That Troon Vineyards is now, only five years removed from that controversy, viewed as an Applegate Valley pioneer and a purveyor of some of Southern Oregon’s most promising and interesting wines is a minor PR miracle, made possible through the yeoman’s work provided by a combination of team players: new owners Bryan and Denise White (a Texas couple who started with the acquisition of nearby O’Neill Vineyard, then purchasing Troon in 2017), pedigreed winemaker Steve Hall, and impossibly indefatigable general manager Craig Camp.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

Take heed!

When Napa-area veteran Camp came on board at Troon to help get the entity into more attractive sale shape, he told me that he was immediately impressed with the potential, given how good the wines already were. He focused first on ensuring that the operational and marketing basics were on solid footing – “block and tackle, man, block and tackle.” The additions of foot-treading and Biodynamics to the mix helped to put the finishing touches on the approach, and Troon was, in a very real sense, thus reborn as a brand.

What hasn’t changed is that Troon’s small vineyard location is capable of some excellent winegrowing magic when the right varieties are planted. Troon is more or less surrounded by the Siskiyou Mountains, near a wider section of the Applegate River, with river bench soils that consist of pieces of ancient seabed, granite, and sediment. “We have a mostly Northern California climate here,” Craig noted, “with a shorter growing season. So we can produce wines with European ‘weights.'”

Put another way, as winemaker Steve Hall noted when summarizing Troon’s current approach, “you do what can to make something… beautiful…”

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Vermentino (Applegate Valley, $16)

Speaking of beautiful… or, at the very least, substantially pretty… Southern OR seems an unlikely spot for what Steve Hall called “a kind of dangerous animal all-around,” but Vermentino shines here. This example is bright, citric, focused, and lovely, with lees notes rounding out a mineral, nutty backbone.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Rolle (Applegate Valley, $20)

Ten percent Marsanne (picked the same day) is added to this slightly more substantial Vermentino take; it’s less nutty, more floral, and a lot more tropical than its more modest little sister label. It’s also broader, richer, and more textural, which means that you can swap it on unsuspecting Chardonnay lovers.

 

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Roussanne (Applegate Valley, $35)

Unique and characterful, you’ll need to bring your penchant for a pleasing astringent “bite” when drinking this white. It’s worth it, too, for the tropical fruit and white flower aromas, hints of saline and herbs, and its smooth, broad oiliness.

 

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Blanc (Applegate Valley, $35)

A blend of Marsanne and Viognier, this might be the most excellent “sleeper” wine in Troon’s white lineup. Flowers, citrus, stone fruits, and perfume kick things off, followed by a beguiling, fleshy/flinty/mineral entry that moves to a broad, sexy, silky palate. The finish is long, structured, and demands attention.

 

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Riesling Whole Grape Ferment (Applegate Valley, $20)

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)I love this little oddball. Technically, this is an orange wine, and while it’s not quite cloudy, you do get the rosé-not-quite feel from the amber color and visual density. There’s ample skin astringency, of course, but it’s in the form of lime and citrus pith, the way that orange peels make their way into a good plate of orange chicken at your favorite Chinese food joint. The bottom line is that this is an orange wine of which you can actually enjoy an entire glass, which puts it into somewhat rarefied territory.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2016 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Côt Malbec (Applegate Valley, $30)

The words “elegant” and “Malbec” aren’t often used in close proximity of one another, but in this case the use case is justified. Remember what Camp said about “European weights?” I think he had this red in mind at the time. Spices, herbs, green tobacco, plums, earth, leather, and tart red berry fruits, it’s hard not conjure up images of good Cahors when sipping this homage to the European patrimony of the grape.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2015 Troon Vineyard Tannat (Applegate Valley, $35)

Even in its best forms, Tannat is a grape that’s a hard sell outside of a steakhouse. Having said that, there’s something about the Troon site that tames this grape’s burly tannins and makes for a pleasant experience without having to wait eight years for things to soften up first. The textbook stuff is all there: tobacco, leather, deep and dark sour cherry fruit, cocoa, and a crap-ton of acidity and structure. But you can get away with pouring this one even if you’re not within chomping distance of a slab of meat.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2015 Troon Vineyard M*T Cuvée Pyrénées (Applegate Valley, $50)

Troon’s flagship red is a mix of Malbec and Tannat, and that mix is a complex beast. First, there are more delicate aspects: violets, herbs, spices, plums, and silkiness. Then, there are the rough-and-ready compliments: tobacco, smoke, dark red fruits, and leather. Its penchant for being demanding doesn’t stop once it’s in your mouth, either – that’s where you have to come to terms with the tensions between the wine’s grip/power and its lithe, almost electric finish. I wish more wines like this were being made out West.

Cheers!

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That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)

Joan Ignasi Domènech, talking sh*t in Vinyes Domènech

If you visit Montsant’s Vinyes Domènech, located in the southern portion of the winemaking district that nearly encircles Spain’s famous Priorat area like a talon, be forewarned that owner Joan Ignasi Domènech is likely to talk sh*t.

As in, literally speak about sh*t. Like, fertilizer. Along with solar energy, water collection, and all things botanical. Long enough to really, really, really make you want to move away from the intensely pungent nearby piles of the stuff…

Domènech, who heads up this family-owned and operated vineyard area surrounded by the natural park beauty of the Llaberia and Montalt mountains at roughly 400 meters elevation, is a stickler for all-things natural, biodynamic, and conservatory.

That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)

Since 2002, this former tech-guy has overseen some of the oldest vines in Capçanes, in a spot that previously had no real supporting infrastructure of any kind. That Domènech didn’t have any previous experience in wine (aside from drinking it, and living near Priorat in Falset) or in reconstituting rugged landscapes didn’t deter his enthusiasm for transforming a previously nearly-inaccessible 15 hectares of land into what is now the handsome hamlet of Vinyes Domènech.

Domènech was, as he tells it, wooed by the natural beauty of the area after visiting it with his family on holidays, and luckily for us wine geeks, he happens to have access to Garnaxta perluga vines that are well into their elderly stage (60-80 years and counting)…

That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)

That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)2016 Vinyes Domènech ‘Bancal del Bosc’ Garnatxa Blanca (Montsant, $NA)

Priorat-area fans are justifiably ga-ga over old Garnacha vine fruit, but its blanca equivalent can be equally as compelling in its later years, as evidenced by Vinyes Domènech’s wares. Their Bancal is creamy, generous, harmonious, textured, and lovely. It’s also complex, with varying degrees of blossom, honey, peach, citrus, pear, lemon, herbs, and toast. Overall, it’s a beguiling white, provided that you’re grown-up and daring enough to venture into the more exotic territory to which it’s inviting you.

That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)

That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)2016 Vinyes Domènech ‘Rita’ (Montsant, $NA)

There’s Lovely Rita, and there’s this, which is more like Sexy Rita. 60+ year-old vines provide the fruit for this Garnaxta Blanca, and only about one thousand bottles were made of the `16. Some of the vinification takes place in barrel, resulting in a silky, tropical, rich, and floral presentation with emphasis on the lemon cream action. Having said that, it’s not without its charm, by way of little tinges of herbs, minerals, and saline.

That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)

That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)2015 Vinyes Domènech Vinyes Velles de Samsó (Montsant, $NA)

100% Carignan, with maybe 500 bottles produced in the vintage, from 80+ year-old vines. Domènech remarked, I think in equal parts joke, exacerbation, and pride, that it takes “five vines per bottle” to craft this smooth, elegant, spicy, and vibrant red. The plummy fruitiness is quite deep, the structure (this is still a baby-child) and power are ample, and the purity is enviable.

That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)

That Is One Big Pile Of… Enthusiasm (Vinyes Domènech Recent Releases)2014 Vinyes Domènech ‘Teixar’ Garnaxta Vella (Montsant, $NA)

Old vines from select plots supply the fruit for this spicy, savory, silky, sinewy, loud and long red. Red and black plums and cherries, violets, dried herbs, along with almost-but-not-really-overripe flavors make for a big, bold, steak-ready sipper. The long finish is a bonus, and might help to clear your retro-nasal passages of any lingering smells from all of that natural fertilizer, should you be lucky enough to visit…

Cheers!

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You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

Lucien Albrecht’s Jérôme Keller surveys the Oysterhouse Philly bounty

Not too long ago – ok, well, actually, several months ago, but I’m just getting back around to the topic now because I’ve been busy being all self-employed and day-drinking and what-not – I was invited to lunch with the dry-humored Jérôme Keller, Technical Director/Oenologist for Alsace stalwart produce Lucien Albrecht. Now, it hasn’t been all that long (especially by my warped standards) since I devoted quite a bit of the virtual page space here on 1WD to Alsace, but when you’re a wine-geek-turned-critic-type you don’t turn down an opportunity to a) get reacquainted with one of the first three Alsatian firms to have helped launched the Crémant d’Alsace AOC (which, like me, dates back to the early 1970s), which now comprises about 70% of their total production; and b) eat at Phlly’s Oyster House restaurant.

So, yeah, I did those. And while it’s taken me a few months to get around to writing it up, if you consider that we’re talking about a producer whose Alsatian roots can be traced back to 1698 (when Balthazar Albrecht settled in Orschwihr) and whose winemaking roots date back to 1425 (when the impossibly-impressively-named Romanus Albrecht started the winery), then I think I can be forgiven for some tardiness, especially from that timeline perspective.

Anyway, Keller has done some work in the USofA, having participated in harvest at Sonoma Cutrer, so he understands (or at least is adept at faking to understand) what passes for American humor, so we got along swimmingly, popping shellfish and tasting through some of the more recent Albrecht wares (and yes, the food/wine match went as lovably, gluttonously well as you’d expect)…

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Rosé Brut (Alsace, $23)

Almost no one has been doing Cremant in Alsace as long as Lucien Albrecht, and that long-standing experience is evident in this lovely, 100% full-bunch-pressed Pinot Noir bubbly, which spends about 14 months in the bottle. “Our style,” noted Keller, “is to have bright red fruits.” Mission accomplished; you get lots of red berries here, an admirably rich palate, and a finish that’s longer than you’re paying for at this price point.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2013 Lucien Albrecht Brut Chardonnay (Cremant d’Alsace , $45)

A new release, meant to showcase the “linerality” of their Chardonnay, according to Keller. Barrel aged and fermented, with malo and lees action for three years in the bottle, this sparkler is made form grapes that are selected from primarily limestone-soil vineyards. The result is intensely floral and toasty on the nose, and yeasty, peachy, perky,and textural in the mouth. It’s the kind of bubbly that makes it very, very difficult to not drink half the bottle embarrassingly quickly.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2016 Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Balthazar” (Alsace, $17)

Albrecht wisely (ha-ha!) grow their PB in a warmer area of their Alsatian vineyards, and add a bit Auxerrois to the final blend; what you end up with are the tropical and melon aromas you’d expect, a pleasantly plump and sexy mouthfeel, and an underpinning of astringency and lift. Think white fish recipes for dinner.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2016 Lucien Albrecht Cuvée Romanus Pinot Gris (Alsace, $19)

Melons, stone fruits, citrus pith, astringent “bite,” great acidity, and a touch of mesquite honey… I kind of fell in love with this PG, which will wistfully make you lament as to why so many domestic US PGs taste like flat melon soda compared to stuff like this. Bear in mind that the Roman could use a couple more years of rest, to help all of that complexity meld with its ripe fruits flavors.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases) 2012 Lucien Albrecht Riesling Pfingstberg (Alsace Grand Cru, $31)

Damn… this is good. The Pfingstberg Grand Cru vineyard has been renowned since at least 1299; ranging in elevation from 270 to 370 meters, the soils are chalk and micaceous sandstone (depending on the aspect). The key thing to remember about Pfingstberg, in this author’s experience, is florals: a plethora of perfumed blossom aromas await, including lime, along with a host of other things for which Riesling is so (justifiably) lauded by nerds like me (saline, mineral, stone fruits, pith, toast, pear, spices…). The finish is long, salty, and flinty, and even breaking thirty clams (ha-ha!) this GC is kind of a bargain.

 

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2016 Lucien Albrecht Gewürztraminer Reserve (Alsace, $17)

Keller describes the southern-facing vineyards that source this Reserve wine as allowing for “aromatic ripeness” from which the resulting fresh-bouquet-of-roses floral characters derive. That, and almost maddening levels of winemaking patience (“we press, we wait; we press again, we wait…”). Like trying to avoid hyphenated phrases in this article, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more tried-and-true example of Alsatian Gewürztraminer; rose petal, lychee, toast, all moving to mineral, silkiness, and tell-tale mixture of pleasing astringency, structure, and a juuuust enough lift. The whole experience is harmonious, too, right through to the (not short) finish.

Cheers!

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Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)

sushi – it’s not just for Pinot anymore

Recently, I was invited for a media-lunch-tasting-type-thingy in Philly with the affably hippie-ish-appearing Greg Morthole, who has been making wines for the Davis Bynum label since 2010. Davis Bynum wa purchased by Rodney Strong in 2007, and before that was a bit of a Sonoma-area legend, based on its eponymous founder.

That Davis Bynum (who passed away in 2017) is literally the daddy of Russian River Valley single-vineyard Pinot Noir, having harvested the first ever such varietal wine in 1973. Bynum got his start as a home winemaker in the 1950s, went pro in the 1960s, and at times had vineyard land in Napa and handshake grape deals with the Rochioli clan. And those last two sentences are a gross oversimplification of why Bynum’s name is well-regarded in the vinous world; I mean, this is also the former San Francisco Chronicle reporter who famously bought a box of grapes from Robert Mondavi for less than $2, once employed the about-as-legendary winemaker Gary Farrell, and used to haul grapes to his Albany winery in a 1946 Studebaker flatbed.

Morthole speaks fondly of Bynum, and if he’s suffering from any pressure-related performance anxiety related to making wines under Bynum’s name, he doesn’t betray an iota of it in his laid-back, California dude demeanor. Here’s what we tasted together over bites of Zama Sushi in Philly (and, yeah, Pinot works with sushi, depending on how earthy a cut you order, and how reserved your application of wasabi is…)…

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)2017 Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Jane’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley, $25)

“This is my favorite vintage [of the Sauvignon Blanc],” Morthole mentioned to me, “and I’m not just bullsh*tting you!” And there is definintely something special about this release, which hails from a mere five acres of sandy-clay loam soils, and sees twenty percent acacia and older oak barrel action. Sporting melon, lemongrass, spice, blossoms, and tropical fruit aromas/flavors, this holds its palate weight deftly; I mean, it’s curvy, but it’s also firm.

 

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)2015 Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, $25)

A change of label accompanied this vintage, along with a change in the oak regimen (less was used, as you’d probably already guessed mid-sentence). The result is a zesty Chardonnay that showcases lemon, blossom, and flint action along with its peaches-and-cream profile. “I like where this is at now,” Morthole mentioned, and I am inclined to agree with him.

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)2014 Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, $25)

Broad, toasty, tropical, and dead-sexy, this is alive and kicking. Ripe peaches, cream, crème brûlée… you know you’re in California, for sure, and in this case there’s balance along with the opulence and you don’t mind it even one little bit.

 

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)2016 Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, $35)

A vintage built for some aging, this Santa Rosa plain vineyard Pinot hails from low-vigor soils, and in the `16 incarnation has a tight, earthy, spicy, and dark-fruited profile. It’s big, it’s structured, but it’s also floral, with lovely herbal overtones and great balance between its riper and tarter berry and plum fruit flavors. And yeah, it worked with raw tuna (like, big-time).

 

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)2015 Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, $35)

This is a richer, toastier vintage of the Jane’s, with ample spice and black tea leaf aromas. There are sexy black fruits, lithe red fruits, and lots of berry fruits in general. The finish is what really works well here; it’s long, toasty, and not taking No for an answer.

 

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)2014 Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, $35)

This is the kind of wine that should dispel doubts about whether or not the Bynum wine legacy is in good hands. Aromas of wood, tea, and pepper spices mingle with big, juicy, red and black berry fruits. As long and toasty of a finish as we’ve come to expect, and basically just kick ass the entire time during the drinking experience.

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)

Who’s Your Daddy… Of RRV Single Vineyard Pinot? (Davis Bynum Recent Releases)2015 Davis Bynum Pommard Clone Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, $55)

A new venture for the Davis Bynum label (hey, you heard it here first, kiddos!), from Huichica soils that, along with the clone and rootstock choices, provide some water stress to the Pinot vines from whence this wine came. It’s big, earthy, toasty, spicy, and dark; bring your penchant for black tea, citrus peel, and plummy fruits. Underneath it all, there’s tannic and acidic structure that provides both scaffolding and liveliness. 17% new oak, 14.49% abv, and basically 99% Kick-Ass.

Cheers!

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What We Drank When My Kid Hit Double Digits (Tasting 2008 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling)

What We Drank When My Kid Hit Double Digits (Tasting 2008 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling)For my daughter’s birthday, generally I host a fairly large party; while there is a theme (Spider-Man this year – see inset pic – because my kiddo is awesome), and while there are plenty of kids (usually about a third of the 20-30 guests), it’s not a kiddo party per se. It’s just an old-school neighborhood gathering that happens to be hosting a good number of children.

There are some fun things for the kids, but the adults get treats, too; in this case, usually wine from whatever magnums I have lying around the sample pool (the last few years, including this one, have featured the special Oscars magnum release of the perennially delicious NV Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne). So usually the adults are in good spirits at this shindig, despite the fact that there might be ten or so kids throwing foam airplane party favors at their heads. And, No, the kiddos don’t get to have any of the wine (I’m selfish that way).

Anyway, I also often (but not always) break out a birth year wine (my daughter’s birth year, mind you, not mine) if I happen to have one on hand. And this year’s selection happened to tick both the Magnum and Birth Year boxes…

What We Drank When My Kid Hit Double Digits (Tasting 2008 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling)2008 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes, $NA)

It’s a rare occasion when I’ve got a bottle on hand that I paid for with my own hard-earned coinage, but that’s what happened when I was in the Finger Lakes area, visited Wiemer on Seneca Lake, and paid $45 for an Alsatian-style magnum bottle of their Dry Riesling, which clocked in at a whopping 12% abv. I don’t remember much about buying this (and yes, I was sober at the time), other than the fact that I had to stand in line at the shop to procure it.

What We Drank When My Kid Hit Double Digits (Tasting 2008 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling)If you’re wondering about the provenance of said magnum, it was transported from the winery to my basement, where it has laid in repose ever since. Despite not having any concerns about how the bottle was treated, I was a bit skeptical of how it would fare once opened; I mean, FLX Rieslings are the shizzle, but a ten-year-old one from a time period in which the region wasn’t yet a media darling? It could’ve been deader than Lincoln.

Happily, I can report that this thing wasn’t just drinkable, it was superb. It still had lime-and-lemon fruit and pithiness, zinging acids, and a nose that you wanted to sniff for hours, all honey blossom, lime, slate, and hints of petrol and toast. I drank way, way, way too much of this racy, elegant stuff, and I don’t really regret it at all. If you’re ever in the market for older FLX Riesling, I’m hoping that this example is enough to help you take the plunge.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at What We Drank When My Kid Hit Double Digits (Tasting 2008 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

The name Perticaia is familiar to lovers of big Italian reds, but its meaning – “plow” in the local dialect – likely isn’t as well-known. It is, however, an apt description of how Azienda Agraria Perticaia has forced its way through to the top of the critical food chain when it comes to Montefalco Sagrantino wines.

For that, Perticaia can thank both timing and focus. The brand was founded by Guido Guardigli towards the end 1990s, when Montefalco began a quality boon and a production boom, during which the number of wineries in the region nearly quadrupled. They now farm some sixteen hectares of vines, with not an International grape variety to be found among them, and more or less focus on yields that take produce about one 750ml bottle of wine per plant. Of their 125,000 bottle annual production, a whopping seventy percent gets exported, which means that their oenologist Alessandro Meniconi (working with consultant Emiliano Falsin) is a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades, handling (among other things) some export management duties, as well.

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

Among Montefalco Sagrantino producers, Perticaia is one of the more fastidious when it comes to production techniques, and understanding those is key to getting a full grasp of why their Sagrantino releases are so appealing at such young ages. Only about fifteen percent new French oak is used, with the remainder in some cases being as old as six years, which is kind of like the dotage period in French oak barrel terms (they’re making a push to move towards higher use of older, larger barriques, too).

The big key, however, might be in their seemingly non-intuitive, ass-backwards decision to let their Sagrantino undergo longer than normal maceration. One would think that this would make those reds tougher-than-nails when it comes to Sagrantino’s already rough tannins, but one would be wrong, because Chemistry. The longer maceration actually polymerizes the tannins, making them more approachable at the expense of color (which, as Meniconi emphasized to me during a media visit, “Sagrantino has plenty of, anyway)…

True to form for me, after talking about red wine maceration, I’m going to kick things off by reviewing some of Perticaia’s interesting indigenous white wines, because yeah, I am that guy:

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2016 Azienda Agraria Perticaia Trebbiano Spoletino (Umbria, $17)

Not to be confused with, well, every other rendition of Trebbiano in Italy (with which it shares little genetic history), Spoletino is one of the most exciting vinous things happening in the Montefalco region. Being one of the first producers to work with Spoletino more seriously, Perticaia has crafted a lively, lovely, and complex rendition; tropical, floral, mineral, creamy, and textural, with hints of saline, citrus pith, and all-around loveliness.

 

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2015 Azienda Agraria Perticaia “del Posto” (Spoleto, $NA)

I suppose that when one names a wine “local,” the message is about as blunt as it can be. Heady, floral,  and honeyed, “del Posto” is a bigger take on Spoletino. Tropical fruits combine with cream, citrus, lees, and late-harvest style richness, all underpinned by ample structure and nice freshness. But it’s that perfume on the nose that will put impure thoughts in your head, and make you think of alternative meanings of their namesake’s translation.

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2014 Azienda Agraria Perticaia Montefalco Rosso (Umbria, $20)

Peticaia use the standard Sangovese/Sagrantino blend for their Montefalco Rosso, but instead of the more popular choice of Merlot, they employ the wily (and oft-underrated) Colorino. This red sees no wood, and the result is spicy, fresh, chewy, and approachable, with cherry flavors, orange peel notes, and floral hints.

 

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2011 Azienda Agraria Perticaia Montefalco Rosso Riserva (Umbria, $NA)

The wood-aged version of their Montefalco red blend is so similar in flavor profile to the Rosso that they could be mistaken for twins rather than the bigger-younger brother pair that they really are; only in this case, the blend is decidedly more “manly” (think meatiness, game, and wood spices). It’s silkier, too, with more grip and richness. Lacking in character, this is not.

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)

Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases)2014 Azienda Agraria Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino (Umbria, $NA)

And now for the long-overdue moment… you already know that I’m going to say that this is good. Plummy, with ample dried herb notes, along with smoked game meats and leather, this is a complex, juicy nose that ultimately finds its foundation in black cherry fruits. The mouthfeel is superb; silky to start, grippy in the center, and spicy/herbal on the way out, with a long exit and sweet, ripe fruit and cocoa throughout.

If you’ve any doubt about Perticaia’s maceration techniques, I can attest to the viability of their not-so-recent Sagrantino releases, which we also tasted during my visit. Specifically, the 2013 is dense, plummy, velvety, and full of that telltale cocoa spice, but is noticeably bigger/richer in fruit and power than its 2014 counterpart, maybe a bit more textured, and just as poised, lengthy and complex.

Going back a bit further, the 2009 incarnation is savory, spicy, and harmonious, exerting its tension through a pleasant battle of fruity chewiness and a grippy, lifted palate. It’s still a baby, too. Finally, there’s the 2004, which was essentially crafted using brand-spanking new Sagrantino vines. The quality here is striking for such young bucks; cigar, graphite, smoke, game meat, earth, and wood are present, along with stewed plums and an almost aged-Bordeaux-like presentation. It’s still quite powerful (hello… Sagrantino!), but that won’t stop you from drinking more than your fair share of it, if you an find it.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Pert, Plus (Perticaia Recent – And Not-So-Recent! – Releases) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

Jesús del Rio Mateu, proprietor of the Masroig-area Mas de l’Abundància – doesn’t just have an enviable name; he’s also got an enviably amazing vineyard view, enviably old vines, and sits enviably close to one of Spain’s critical-darling DOs, Priorat.

He also has an enviably-close relationship to a good importer, Folio Wine Partners, owned by the Michael Mondavi clan, who, Jesús is quick to point out, love to visit his hilly, llicorella-heavy eight hectares of aging vines.

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

Jesús del Rio Mateu

“‘Can you fell the energy?’ That’s what they said when they were here,” he told me during a media tour visit to his Montsant DO estate. And while Jesús’ “house of plenty” certainly has its own energetic charm, my guess is that the tingling vibes felt by the Mondavis on their visit had more to do with the overhead high-tension power lines. Either that, or it was the pent-up tension in their shoulder-blades being released after taking in the glory of the scenery.

Anyway… the dramatic views of Priorat and the encapsulating Montsant mountain ranges from Jesús’ vines seem to have imbued him with senses of both literal and figurative perspective about the place; after all, this region of Spain has belonged to monks, aristocrats, Romans, and Arabs. Jesús puts it this way: “this doesn’t belong to me; I belong to it.”

The “it” in this case, coupled with ample sunlight, elevation, slope, and a continental climate, have combined to produce Montsant wines that are nearly as compelling, dramatic energetic, and “deep” as Mas de l’Abundància’s location…

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)2016 Mas de l’Abundància “De Calpino” (Montsant, $52)

In my experience, it can be tough to find a 100% Grenache Blanc that feels whole and complete on its own. This is not one of those cases; here we have a GB that’s total from start to finish. The vineyard is slate-heavy, and was planted in 1892, so we are talking legitimately old vines here. Heady, floral, mineral, tropical, rich with stone fruits, creamy, silky, big, and yet totally lovely, this is one of te best whites I encountered over all of the Montsant DO.

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)2016 Mas de l’Abundància “He Ma” (Montsant, $NA)

Sure, the title evokes He-Man, but this Cabernet Sauvignon / Grenache / Carignan blend is far from burly; in fact, it’s focused, bright, floral, and fruity (think blue and red berries), with excellent vibrancy. It’s an easy-drinking red that manages to still be intelligent.

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)2016 Mas de l’Abundància “Flvminis” (Montsant, $25)

With similar blending components to the “He Ma” (10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 60% Grenache, and 30% Carignan), this bigger brother is decidedly more serious, more plummy, more polished, and more powerful. It’s savory, too, full of violets and ripe, sweet berry fruits. What I admired most about this red, however, was how well it exuded a sense of purity and transparency despite its ample palate weight.

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)

High Tension Wires, Low Tension Views (Mas de l’Abundancia Montsant Recent Releases)2013 Mas de l’Abundància “Abundància” (Montsant, $NA)

The biggest bro of the lineup is a 60/40 Grenache/Carignan blend, with fewer than one thousand bottles made from organically-farmed vines that are in excess of eighty years young. Rich, plummy, spicy, floral, and complex, with licorice and stewed fruit notes, this red starts with silk, moves to tart, spicy plums, and finishes with toast and mineral. It’s alluring, sexy AF, and simply a gorgeous sipper. Dramatic stuff from a dramatic place; and you’ll feel the energy, even if you’re not within spitting distance of an overhead power line…

Cheers!

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First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)

Filipo Antonelli

It’s a wet, chilly, grey Winter morning in San Marco, a locality that sits just outside of Italy’s Montefalco and the ridiculously-well-named town of Bastardo. And I’ve had to wait in the damp cold for a short bit, because Filippo Antonelli is a bit late for our appointment at his family’s winery (hey, welcome to Umbria, right?). And that’s pretty much the only slightly-negative thing that you’ll read about Antonelli over the next few minutes… but let’s set the stage with a little bit more detail before we get into the effusive wine recommendation stuff…

Filippo opens up the Antonelli tasting room, which sits on a hill across from the old family house/cellar/former winery, and starts to bring the charmingly imposing place to life, switching on the lights, and asking me “would you like a coffee?”

I tell him no, grazie, I just had plenty of java at my hotel, so I’m good.

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)After a bit of a pause, he turns towards the espresso machine longingly, then back to me. “Do you mind if I have one, then, before we get started?” And that’s one of those moments where you just love Italy.

Anyway, Filipo then gives me the lowdown on the Antonelli biz. He co-owns (since 1986) the family company along with his cousins, with the Umbria property being from his father’s side (and formerly, for about six centuries, being the Summer residence of bishops – part of the fact that Umbria was a portion of the Vatican state until the Eighteenth Century). His great grandfather Francesco was a lawyer, who purchased the estate in 1881. At that time, it was typical Umbrian farming fare; a mix of vines, olive trees, pig farms, and wheat, with the wine being sold in bulk and crop-sharing being the norm. After the advent of the DOC in 1979, they began bottling their own wine, and now release about 300,000 bottles a year from 50 hectares of vines (and still farm olives, wheat, spelt, chick peas, and host agritourism (that is an actualy word, by the way) on roughly 170 hectares of land).

A new subterranean winery was built in 2001. And from it comes perhaps some of the most elegantly-crafted Sagrantino available on the planet…

The current winemaking at Antonelli is a team effort between consulting winemaker Paolo Salvi, resident Oenologist Massimiliano Caburazzi, vineyard consultant and Ruggero Mazzilli, and vineyard manager Alessio Moretti. What’s in their bottles suggests that they are doing just about everything right.

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)2016 Antonelli San Marco ‘Trebium’ Trebbiano Spoletino Spoleto (Umbria, $20)

The whites of Monteflaco are often overshadowed by their much more, uhm, robust red brethren. But it’s one of the regional white DOCs – Spoleto – that is among the area’s most vinously exciting. italy’s maddening penchant for naming every other genetically-unrelated white grape trebbiano aside, the Spoletino version can be fascinating stuff. Here, we get friendly citric and herbal/floral notes, with more serious hints of brioche and pith. It’s tight and young, revealing little (and even that after several minutes in the glass), but the structure and aging potential is apparent right off the bat.

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)2012 Antonelli San Marco Montefalco Rosso Riserva (Umbria, $33)

The Montefalco middle-child brother, this classification sits between the more instantly-appealing Montefalco Rosso and Sagrantino designations. Antonelli only produces their Riserva line in better vintages, and it sees longer wood aging than their Rosso (about 1.5 years). The blend is about 70% Sangiovese (in this case, selected from their oldest vines), 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Montepulciano. Sangio arrived in the area ’round about 1800, and despite the continental climate does well in the region’s ample sunshine. Interestingly, and thankfully unlike its Trebbiano, there’s no specific sangiovese variant that defines Montefalco’s plantings. Anyway, this red combines freshness and earthiness in a classy, spicy, plummy presentation. The mouthfeel is, at turns, full of tart cherry flavors and fleshier, riper plums, and finishes with hints of citrus peel and even clay (and I mean this in a very good, pair-it-with-flank-steak kind of way).

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)2012 Antonelli San Marco Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, $43)

Now we get to the meat of the meal. Sagrantino isn’t a easy grape to get your head (or tongue, or gums) around, particularly when it’s young and full of burly tannins, burly acids, and burly alcohol. Antonelli has managed to set a standard on how elegant a Sagrantino can be upon release, without going overboard trying to completely tame its youthful unruliness. This is immediately complex stuff, with ample black cherry, tobacco, leather, and mineral aromas. In the mouth, all of the requisite structure for aging is there, along with power, but it never gets overbearing. Give it ten years, and thank me later.

First Coffee, Then Tannins (Antonelli Montefalco Recent Releases)2010 Antonelli San Marco “Chiusa di Pannone” Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, $NA)

I’ve been trying, since tasting this wine, to come up with reasons for not considering it one of the best young Sagrantinos that I’ve ever tasted, and despite the effort of trying to prove the negative corollary, I keep coming up short so I’m going to give up and just call this release the real deal. The wine is sourced from 1990s plantings that sit at about 400 meters elevation, helping to tame the sun-ripening and heat during the growing season. The result is about as gorgeously kick-ass (think Michelle Yeoh) as Sagrantino gets; graphite, leather, earth, tobacco spices, red plums, black cherries, and a long, fleshy, grippy, stunning palate expression. I took a bottle home, which, given how ridiculously behind on sample tastings (and storage space) I am, is about as high a praise as I can offer a wine these days, I suppose.

Cheers!

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It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)

Look! Wine samples!!!

If it feels like forever since I’ve actually highlighted something from the wine sample pool in a feature here, that’s because in Internet terms, it more or less has actually been forever since I’ve actually highlighted something from the wine sample pool in a feature here.

This is, I like to think, a function of having so many worthy travel-related wine experiences to impart to you (as well as having to drum up at least some money in doing writing and video work for other outlets). But it’s probably more a function of devoted single-fatherhood, the holidays, and allowing myself the gift of not feeling as though I have to hustle all of the f-cking time.

But as the temperature has dipped into obscenely low levels in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. region that I call home at the tail-end of the Winter holiday season, I’ve been raiding the home sample pool in between media jaunts. Two things were bound to happen in that scenario (in order of decreasing statistical likelihood): 1) hangovers, and 2) finding at least a couple of gems to recommend to you.

And so, I’m happy to report that I did find some sample pool princesses to highlight, after kissing a fair amount of frogs…

It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)

It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)2011 Lieb Family Cellars Reserve Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Pinot Blanc (North Fork of Long Island, $30)

So, Blanc de Blancs from (Pinot) Blanc; not exactly Earth-shattering novelty, but it hails from an area of the world that is not exactly a household name with respect to the modern sparkling wine market. Only about 900 cases of this 2011 bubbly were made, but presumably every one of them was crafted with the kind of care that should make wine lovers’ mouths water a little bit.

To wit: this is a sparkler that is clearly designed to impress: using yeast developed in Champagne’s Epernay, and seeing four years of tirage. The mousse is delicate, the nose floral (with lovely little apple and brioche action), and the palate almost downright rich (by bubbly standards) with pear, toast, and a touch of honey (the wild, local kind, and not the store-bought, overly-processed kind). Thanks to some raging acidity, your mouth will only barely register the 12 g/l of sugar (though my mind is definitely wondering if a racier, more linear version of this with a smaller dosage would taste just as elegant as this current mix does).

It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)

It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)2015 Stéphane Aviron Chenas Vieilles Vignes (Beaujolais, $20)

How. The. HELL. I don’t understand how this wine isn’t $35 a bottle. Well, I do understand it, because it has the word Beaujolais on the label and, well, marketing and all of that. But still… Aviron has been getting Gamay grapes from the Chenas 13-some-odd acre vineyard parcel that sources this wine since the early 1990s, but the vines themselves actually qualify as old even by jaded wine nerd standards; they’re average age is 100 years, and most are pre-phylloxera. The site sits on pebbly, clay-and-quartz soil that, presumably, was deemed too shitty to grow anything other than grapes many, many years ago.

Aviron uses precisely zero carbonic maceration in the creation of this Chenas, ostensibly because this is a serious vineyard and therefore deserves a more serious approach, but I’m guessing that the true reason is that Gamay grapes with red berry and plummy fruitiness this deep and lively simply don’t require it. The wine sees a year of aging in oak aged between one and four years, and the result is spicy, peppery, brambly, herbal, and, if I may be so bold (hey, we’re talking about Gamay, here), layered. It’s a minor triumph of a wine; the kind of thing you pull out for pizza night, and then realize with rapid, holy-shit-dude! certainty that your pie is in no way worthy of what you just poured.

Cheers!

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