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The rise of Arnaud Lambert is no surprise. Since our first meeting in 2010 at his home in Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg, a dozen or more kilometers south of the Loire River, this unknown vigneron’s potential was obvious—not only with what skills he already possessed, but how clear it was that he would sharpen them and grow into the spectacular talent he has become. Every vintage seems to eclipse the previous, and with some of the most gifted Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc vineyards in the Loire Valley, he’s only getting started. What’s most incredible about Arnaud is his ability to churn out such quality with nearly twenty different cuvées rendered from more than forty hectares of vineyards; although this is a lot, all of his wines seem like they’ve come from a domaine with no more than five hectares. His wines are spectacularly etched jewels, short on pretension and confection, and long on harmonious depth and purity. Everything from his entry-level reds (Les Terres Rouge and Clos Mazurique) and whites (Les Perrieres and Clos de Midi) is astounding, and the upper class of the range developed for more time in the cellar are striking and warrant exploration for any serious Loire Valley wine enthusiast.
The first time I stood on the hill, I didn’t think much of it. It’s a quiet place just outside of the famous French wine town, Saumur. To tell you the truth, there wasn’t much to admire besides a quaint, but lifeless, chateau sitting on top of it. This insipid wonder attracts droves of tourists every year to snap photos and walk away with a lousy souvenir wine from the chateau. Indeed, the recent history of this chateau is one of making downright terrible wines. This hill, however, has a glorious history that has been almost completely forgotten –until now… My addiction to this hill began about four years ago. During my debut as a wine importer, I spent six months chatting it up with various people in the business about producers that could be interesting for me before I pulled the trigger on my maiden voyage in search of the holy grail. Amongst my group of “sources”, was a friend back in Virginia who also runs an import company. Although he was only 26 when I met him, this guy had developed a remarkable and enviable palate for wine. He told me that he drank many great wines throughout his life because his father was a serious wine collector. It must have been nice… My first taste of wine was not one of privilege. I grew up in a small town in Montana, called Kalispell. Most people thought I said “cow’s bell”, or “cattle smell”, when they asked what the name of the town was. I suppose both names could make sense after meeting a hick like me. Because Montana wasn't exactly a mecca for wine lovers, my first contact with wine was an unforgettable bottle of Manaschewitz. It was one of the worst things I can remember putting in my mouth as a kid, and believe me, I put a lot of disgusting things in my mouth back then. After I snuck a taste, I couldn’t understand why my parents would drink this thing that seems like it should have been poured over our salad. Given my first encounter with “wine”, it’s a miracle that I ever drank another glass of the stuff. I must admit, however, that I’ve never had another sip of Manaschewitz. Maybe I should give it another go, just to be fair; after all, it was probably open for at least two months, and I think I was about eight years old at the time. Anyway, my buddy back east told me about a few producers; one in particular caught my attention. He said that they were somewhat of a newcomer to Saumur, which is an area that specializes in two grapes: Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. He seemed pretty surprised that no major importer had picked them up yet in the States. It was a good lead, so I put an email together and sent it off to Domaine de St. Just, fingers crossed. You’d be surprised at how fast people sometimes respond to this sort of inquiry; most of the time, if you ask to buy their wines on the spot, they put it together and send it to you without much ado. Of course, you have to pay in advance, but that’s about it. At any rate, the owner of the domaine, Arnaud Lambert, wrote back immediately and invited me to visit the estate. I asked if it was fine with him to send samples to my friend’s house, in Provence, as I wasn’t planning on going to the Loire on this trip (even if the wines from this place were top notch). This was the only producer in this region that I had the beat on, and it was pretty far out of my way. Believe me, a thousand kilometers out of the way is a long distance to go only to find disappointment. By the end of 2010, I set off for France with proper financing to start importing wines to California. My first stop, whenever I travel to France, is at Pierre and Sonya’s house in Provence, called La Fabrique. Before I arrived, I made sure that it wasn’t a problem for them to receive samples sent for me –little did they know how much was on the way. Before my arrival, they sent me a message saying that, over the last couple of weeks, they had amassed about 11 boxes of wine. Admittedly, I also was a little surprised by how much wine showed up. I was going to be there for only two nights, so I proposed that La Fabrique throw a party. They thought I was insane when I told them that I was going to open all the bottles at the party because they only had gathered 15 people for it. It was a lot of wine, but in the end, only about a dozen bottles were worth drinking and most of them had been made by the hand of the same vigneron. The truth is, most of what we importers taste is pure junk; the good wines ones are only good, and the great ones are rare. A couple of hours before the party started, I began pulling corks to taste them all before everyone arrived. There were many that weren’t even fit for an outfit like Cost Plus. Then, I put my nose in the first white wine from St. Just, and I knew, straight away, that if the rest followed suit, I would have to reconsider making the journey to Saumur. I slowly worked through the entire range of his wines, looking for reasons not to go, but from top to bottom, they were all seamless. My friend was dead on and I was sure that I had found my first producer. I’ve been a fan of this area of France forever and these were some of the best wines I’ve tasted from there, period. The Chenins were clean, expressive and straightforward –and they weren’t too Chenin-y, if you know what I mean. Their Cabernet Franc wines from Saumur-Champigny were perfectly on par with what I wanted out of this grape: pure, clean, terroir-driven with charming bright red fruits. Honestly, I was more excited about the reds than the whites because I feel that, not only is Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley one of the most authentic terroir wines in all of France, but it is also, in commercial terms, a little easier to sell than Chenin Blanc. The problem I have with this area, however, is that a lot of the highly revered producers make wines that can be a little funky, and that’s not the type of horse that I want to get behind. Arnaud sent another box of samples from a different estate, which was also from Saumur. He put a note in the box telling me that he just started to work with this estate and that he’d like me to consider them as well, but because I was already sold on Arnaud’s wine, they sat in the box until the end of the tasting. In addtion, some of their labels were lousy and only served to further my lack of interest. Without expecting much, I arranged these other wines for a quick tasting. I didn’t expect to care much about them after I tasted the little gems from Domaine de St. Just –boy, was I in for a real shocker. I pulled the cork on the first white, and took a sniff that was loaded with minerals and high-strung citrus fruits. I had no idea of what was about to hit my mouth. When my brother Jon and I were kids, we dismantled a power cord and decided that it could be fun to stick the metal prongs into a wall outlet, with our bare hands. We weren’t the smartest kids, and perhaps that moment in my life explains a few glitches in my system. Anyway, this wine brought me back to that moment as it unleashed some serious liquid wattage into my mouth. This little wine was more than an attack on the palate –it was an assault. I was all puckered up and my head went sideways. It felt like I just brushed my teeth and rinsed my mouth out with a glass of Chablis. After a few more tastes, however, it became clear that there was something magic inside this angry little wine. I’ve always been a sucker for abuse, so this was right up my alley. I opened the second Saumur white, Clos David –it was like Meursault on crack. The first wine was all tension; this second wine was also intense, but it was endowed with more body and finesse. It was a more tamed beast, but a beast, nonetheless. Like the first wine, it tweaked my mouth in every direction, but that didn’t stop me from coming back for more. Every sip felt like I was getting smacked in the face by a furious, but sublime, French girl –I loved it! As I continued to taste, I kept thinking: “Are these wines just freaky good, or picked way too early?” I didn’t know because I’d never tasted anything like them before. They were somehow regal and barbaric at the same time; yet, it seemed like they came from a noble terroir. The rest of the wines followed suit with overwhelming tension. The reds had bright red fruit and flowers in aroma with an acidic backbone enviable even for a fine red Burgundy from a classic year. Every one of them was intensely acidic and penetrating, but once you made it through the pain, they were deep and pure. Although it is hard to believe, it’s still possible to find nearly abandoned or chemically destroyed vineyards all over Europe that were once owned by the elite classes of the past. Many of these precious grounds have been passed down generation after generation, only to fall from grace at the hands of a few misguided, or opportunistic, bean counters who put profit at the top of their agenda. They are the ones who manufacture cheap and industrialized imposters that are sold to tourists who think that they are walking away with a wine that, based on historical merit, was once suitable for a king. These wines, in reality, are only paupers dressed in a king’s clothes. There is a quiet hill and chateau with this story of abuse that has now lasted for over a half-century. It could be the greatest forgotten hill of our time; the hill is know as, Brézé. I saw the name “Brézé” for the first time on a bottle of white wine made from a well-respected, but underground, producer best-known for their red wines from Saumur-Champigny, the wine is called Clos Rougeard. I never paid their white wine much attention because it’s a rare bird and it's not usually hanging out at your local wine shop. I remember having it once before, but it didn’t catch my attention, so I never took the time to taste it again. The truth is, I visited Arnaud, not for the Brézé wines he had sent me, but for his Saumur-Champigny reds and his entry-level whites, which were much less physically taxing than the Brézé wines. The first time I visited Arnaud was January of 2011. He first took me to his vineyards in Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg. Nothing makes me happier than visiting vineyards. He was proud to show me that, unlike his neighbors, his land was full of natural grasses and herbs that grew freely between his vines. Moreover, his soils were thriving because he treated them respectfully and spared them synthetic chemical treatments that kill most of the bad (and good) micro-organisms. As we stood on this limestone hill, called Saint-Cyr, I remembered the energy I felt it in his wines the first time I tasted them. We spoke at length about the appellation and he pointed out that, historically, these vineyards have soils that are more suitable for white wines but had been planted to Cabernet Franc before he and his dad bought them back in 1996. Before their time, red wines were more profitable, so it became an economical choice to make the switch. As we finished our tour of Saint-Cyr, he mentioned this “Brézé” wine again as he pointed south and insisted that we go there to look at the vines before we head back to the cellar to taste. We drove to this unsuspecting hill about three kilometers across the way from Saint-Cyr. There was only a gently sloping alluvial valley that separated the hills of Saint-Cyr and Brézé, but I can assure you that the taste of their wines gives the impression that they are miles apart. Our first stop was at the Clos David –the Meursault on crack. Arnaud walked me into what appeared to be a clos; it had old broken down walls that I could easily jump over from a stand still. It wasn’t an impressive vineyard to look at. The vines were tired and seemingly unattended. The vineyard seemed to be held together by a thread and it looked like a cemetery of old vines. Arnaud plunged his hands in Clos David's soil and pulled a pile of chalky white and brown soil full of small limestone fragments. He put his hands full of soil close to my face for inspection. He gave me a faint smile, and, quite embarrassed, he said: “I brought you here to show you what damage has been done to these vineyard over the last century. Look at this topsoil… it’s dead, completely dead…” He told me that it was going to take years for any noticeable changes to take place in the topsoil. The underlying limestone, which holds the magic of these terroirs, had been penetrated long ago by these abused vines, and that’s what keeps them in the game. He pointed out, however, that through the years of abuse with chemical treatments, most of the development of the root systems had stayed close to the surface and didn’t have the power to dig much further than what they had done half a century ago. We went to another special parcel called Clos de la Rue, where he told me stories about the trading of bottles between Chateau de Brézé and other estates like Chateau d’Yquem, bottle for bottle. Each of these special parcels were, in the past, owned by France’s elite society and they were sent throughout the royal courts of Europe. At the time, they were known as “Chenin de Brézé”, and they were considered to be of the best white wines in all of France. While on the hill, Arnaud emphasized the importance of a concept that I seemed to have overlooked; the uniqueness of old walled vineyards, called "clos." Over centuries, vineyards change through erosion that result in a loss of soil. With the case of a vineyard surrounded by a wall, however, the historic soil structure remains while the rest of the vineyards around them, through centuries of erosion, can lose a significant amount of their ancient topsoil. That simple concept hit me like a ton of bricks. These enclosed vineyards are a geological and historical time capsule. They preserve the impression the wines had when they were regarded centuries ago as an important site. I was dumbfounded and saddened by Arnaud's story of Brézé. I could sense his animosity towards the more recent owners of this once great land. After the Second World War, they destroyed the life of their once magnificent terroirs. As we stood in the vineyard, my mind went back to the wines I had tasted in Provence and it started to make sense. The wines were taking only what they could find with the root systems developed as young vines over 60 years ago. They mostly expressed the structure of their deepest, stark-white chalky limestone soils, and not much more. The soil on top – mostly sand and clay – which usually feeds the wine with body, breadth and generosity had little to give. They were on a fast-food diet, yet, somehow, the terroir still fought through. As I walked between rows, looking at the damage, I began to recollect the staggering power my mouth felt a week before in Provence. I realized that what I had tasted were skeletons of what the wines used to be. The vineyards seemed like they were on their way out as many vines were missing and the remaining survivors were fighting a tough fight. I had only tasted their skin and bones –but what powerful skin and bones they were. I looked at Arnaud with disbelief and disappointment. A smile began to grow on his face. He looked at me and declared with a contemptuous tone: “Now, with the children out of the way, we’ll see how great this hill is back in the hands of men.” That moment will stay with me forever and writing down Arnaud’s exact words sends a chill through my body. Hearing stories about the former glory of Brézé was exciting. Arnaud explained that he had signed a 20-year lease on the vineyards. He let a few more kittens out of the bag when he told me that this historic wine hill was once considered one of the greatest wine producing communes in the entire north of France, and one of the two best of the Loire Valley –the other being Savennieres. He added that there were only three other producers bottling estate wines from the hill: Clos Rougeard, Domaine du Collier and France’s newest darling, Romain Guiberteau. Arnaud is originally from Normandy, so these guys had to fill him in on the legend of Brézé. He told me that there are records at the Chateau de Brézé of the historical affairs of the hill which likely give insights on the production of its wines throughout the centuries. Arnaud and others have asked to see them, but the owner of the Chateau dismissed their request, likely out of spite for Arnaud’s growing success with the vineyards that their incompetence let go to pasture. The history is there, but he won’t let anyone have a look at it. To add to this incredible story, Arnaud told me that the rest of the farmers who own quality parcels on the hill sell their grapes to the local co-op because they have no reason, let alone means, to produce commercial wines. What goes on with this hill is unbelievable and Arnaud, at times, he had to stop his account to laugh with me about how absurd it all was. Brézé had been neglected for so long that even the locals, who own a piece of this unique place, throw their grapes into a collective wine that is probably sold down the street at Super U for three euros. What is this madness?! Don’t they know what they have? Clearly, they don’t. The good news, however, that the story of this once glorious hill now rests in the capable hands of a man determined to resurrect this hill of historical vineyards. Once the Chateau de Brézé rises again, so will the rest of the hill. After we finished our tour of some of the clos, we went back for a taste. At this point, I was chomping at the bit to get some of these wines back in my mouth. As soon as we got there, we tasted the St. Just wines, which I was already set on importing. Then we started the Brézé bottlings. On my first smell and taste, I better understood the electrical current that flowed through my mouth. All that these unstoppable terroirs had to give once again began screaming in my face, calling attention their glorious past. After 65 years of punishment and neglect, the wines made in these suppressed vineyards still shined. I was all in. Not surprisingly, on my last year on my visit to Brézé, Arnaud had more things up his sleeve. He told me that the fruit for both of the “entry-level” cuvées, that were simply labeled "Saumur," come from individual historical clos, the Clos du Midi for the white, and the Clos Mazurique for the red. You’ve got to be kidding me! He finally decided to reveal this to me on my third year of selling the wines?! I almost flipped out at him. I was beside myself that he didn’t put the name of the clos on the label! Here, we are talking about this hill and it’s glorious collection of clos, and he’s got this cheap entry-level wine made from a historical site with historical pedigree that he puts into a generic bottling?! I was flabbergasted. “Arnaud, what else are you not telling me?” I demanded. I felt like a death row lawyer dealing with a man who was keeping secrets that could exonerate him. He explained that he had just acquired over 20 hectares of land that he did not have a market for. He had to choose which vineyards to put in the most energy and money. He simply chose to use the two largest crus as the entry-level wines. Crazy… Don’t get used to the cheap prices, they won’t last. I promise you. In 2009, Arnaud and his father Yves signed a deal with the Comte de Colbert for the rights to the vineyards of the Chateau de Brézé. They knew what was needed to nurse the vines back to health. The first trip to the vineyards with Arnaud felt like the sad beginning of an epic movie in which our hero would inevitably triumph as he humbly stood upon the hill after reinstating her glory. Since the day they gained control, they started the process of converting to organic farming with the idea to eventually move into a biodynamic practice. When I asked why he didn’t go straight to biodynamics, he explained that moving the vines into a real biodynamic culture within three years was simply impossible. He pointed out that because the topsoils of all the vineyards were desolate and void of almost all microbial life, making such a bold move at an early stage wasn’t the right way. He further explained that he didn’t want to fabricate the soils by introducing a bunch of foreign microbes to supercharge the healing process. He believes in the terroir and feels that nature needs to find her way again into the vineyards. He estimated that, in ten years, he would be able to assert with confidence that his vineyards were performing at the level of a healthy biodynamic environment. Last year, six years after they started farming organically, he expected to finally see some natural grass growing again. Each time Arnaud tells me something disturbing like that, he looks at me out of the side of his eyes, with a smirk, and his head pointed down as though he felt responsible for what took place before him. Indeed, what happened here is embarrassing; sadly, it’s not uncommon. What makes it especially disheartening, in this case, is the negligence with vineyards that possesses such a rich history. Last year, I had dinner with Romain Guiberteau and Arnaud Lambert, both of whom I import to California. We went down to Arnaud’s cave, below his house, to taste his 2012 single-vineyard wines from both hills. After four years of organic farming, the whites were simply off the charts. After we tasted, Romain needed a smoke, so he and I went outside and started to chat while Arnaud stayed in the cave to organize a few more wines to taste. Romain took a long draw of his cigarette and leaned into me as though he was going to tell me a secret. He quietly said in French: “Yes, I have ONE (Clos des Carmes) of the greatest vineyards on the hill… He has the other EIGHT…” He stared at me as he pointed his finger towards the cellar where Arnaud was and continued: “He’s a great winemaker and he’s just getting started. My vineyards have been in organic culture already for over ten years and he’s just converting them now. Just wait, he’s the one to watch. He has them all…” Hearing this confession from one of the hottest young vignerons in France was unreal. It was a wonderful insight into the character of Romain Guiberteau. He’s a selfless, passionate man interested in the success of his friend Arnaud, as are the other vignerons on the hill, Antoine Foucoult and his father and uncle from the Clos Rougeard. I haven’t met anyone from the Foucoult family, but Arnaud told me that he feels like they are all in it together with him; like a band of brothers. It’s impressive. Two weeks ago, I was in Saumur to pay another visit to Arnaud and Romain. We further discussed the nature of the wines produced on this hill and my purchase of the 2010 basic Saumur white and red from Chateau de Brézé a few years ago. I revealed to them that I only started to find success with the Brézé wines at the start of 2013 and that I hardly sold a single case the first 18 months as they sat in my warehouse. I was a little afraid to show the wines at first because they were taut for so long, but when we unleashed Guiberteau into the California market last year, it helped prime the market’s palate for the wines of Chateau de Brézé. The wines from Romain shocked (literally) everyone and, by that time, the Brézé wines finally relaxed and started to put their cards on the table. They were a perfect follow after Guiberteau floored the market and were welcomed with the same enthusiasm. That night, we all agreed that the wines from Brézé need much more time in the bottle before being sold. That’s why Romain already sells his high-end cuvées three or four years after the vintage date. The next morning, I could see anguish on Arnaud’s face. He told me that, because of our conversation last night, he decided that he was going to ask the bank for more money in order to make the wines age longer before releasing them. It’s this kind of stuff that makes Arnaud special. He never ceases to impress me as his commitment to the success of this hill is inspiring. Two weeks ago – almost four years after my first visit – Arnaud and I walked the vineyards again. I wanted to spend more time in the vineyards to get a better understanding of each clos. As we walked through, the vineyards were showing signs of new life. We reminisced what has happened over the last years that led up to this point. As we bent over to admire new life emerging after a lifetime of abuse, we smiled and grabbed piles of dirt and rock from each sight to inspect its renewing quality. The natural grasses were popping and the life of the soil was being nursed back to health. The vineyards are changing, so is Arnaud. He is a different man than when I met him four years ago. Since then, he’s had a rough patch with the tragic early passing of his wife and his father just a year after my first visit with him. It's a hard story to hear from such a wonderful guy. As we carried on, I realized that the dark cloud, cast over Brézé and Arnaud, is lifting more and more with the passing of each year. Four years ago, I stood with Arnaud at the Clos du Chateau vineyard on the very top of the hill without realizing that this place would become one of my most unexpected love affairs with wine. It's heartwarming to see that the other great producers from the hill, rather than competing with Arnaud, act as his strongest supporting cast. They all know of this almost forgotten history that has been silenced for decades inside this mysterious hill. They are all anxiously waiting to see what Arnaud unearths as he nurses her back to health. There is something stirring on this little hill, and soon, the wine world will remember her name; she is Brézé, the greatest forgotten hill.
Navelli, Abruzzo. Home to CantinArte’s high altitude white wines. (Download complete pdf here) Two months at a time was how I used to do the rounds with our growers. Winter and spring. Summer was too expensive and a fight for good lodging. Fall is too unpredictable with harvest to plan far in advance with most growers waiting for the right time, nerves on alert, hopes high but wearing a stoic face in case of disaster. That was all back before almost every year was hot and early. I arrived home to Portugal in time for Thanksgiving week, obviously not a thing here. During fifteen days on the road I passed through the Loire Valley Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc country (skipping Sauvignon zones–no time this trip), Chablis, Champagne, and added more belly weight and a constant redness to my eyes in Piemonte, as the vines were strangely still green in most of the Langhe toward the end of November. Milan to Porto, an easy direct flight home, I thought, started in Monforte d’Alba at seven in the morning on a crisp, clear, Alp-majestic Sunday morning. Thirteen hours later I descended into a deluge in northern Portugal that started a month ago and hasn’t let up since. I thought I’d have half a Sunday to prepare myself for the coming catchup week, but airports and planes and the unusually extensive delays when you’re tired don’t make for great recovery. Photo from Monforte d’Alba, November 2022 I can’t sleep on planes. Other than one time on the way to Chile it hasn’t happened again for more than ten minutes. I used to fly to Europe three times a year for a month each time when we first started our company. I figured that since I struggle with jet lag as much as I do that I may as well make it worth it by staying longer. Los Angeles (starting in Santa Barbara) to any EU destination is a real slog, a big disadvantage compared to East Coasters. Eventually I extended to two two-month trips in the last three years before I suggested to my wife and my business partner and co-owner and cofounder of The Source, Donny, that I move to Europe full time. Everyone was for it, surprisingly, and during a two-week vacation in Amalfi Coast’s perfect fishing village, Cetara, my wife opened the door with, “I could live here.” We landed on the first of September in 2018, a precise date our visa required of us, but after three months in Salerno, the major port town to the east of the Amalfi Coast, I knew Italy wasn’t our final European destination. Now I prefer to travel in the summer, but this fall trip was a necessity because I’ve done so much scouting and bringing on new producers. I also need to keep up with everyone already on our roster. Last year, having packed a foam roller and nicely padded yoga mat (both necessities now to keep me loose while my body atrophies along the way), I took a six-week solo road trip from Portugal and on through northern Spain, southern France, northern Italy, into Austria, then boomeranging back to Germany, across into Champagne, then directly south through France, a right at Barcelona and back home by the first week of July. It was quite a loop and one of my most memorable trips to date. Despite higher costs, summers are the best time for my work on the road. Long days to grab as much visual candy as possible, nicer weather, light packing, and happier moods thanks to lighter summer fare, an all-you-can-soak-up supply of Vitamin D, and heightened spirits in hopes of a successful coming harvest. 2021 has a lot to offer. While difficult in some places, it put the “classic” back in many wines, despite the losses, though I guess losses are classic too. 2022 was the opposite of 2021. Brutally hot by European standards. However, the upside was that in many places the grape yield was very high, a good offset for what could’ve been a gargantuanly alcoholic vintage turned out not so extreme, though many producers, including Dave Fletcher, said he’d never seen such perfect fruit—no rot, no disease, clean and pretty. The balance of wines in each region is far from determined, but at least for the most part there’s wine to sell after the shortages of 2021. Vincent Bergeron, one of our new producers in Montlouis, explained that he had too much fruit and it was even more stressful as a short vintage because he wasn’t prepared to receive such an overload. 2021 was exactly the opposite. Everyone wants a “normal” harvest each year but we all know that the new normal is that everything is unpredictable. Feast or famine. After two weeks with a party of four (one very light drinker that understandably didn’t pull her weight!), seven meals back-to-back with at least two bottles of Nebbiolo on each table (three the majority of the time), plus cantina visits before and after lunch, five different orders of Vitello Tonnato (top honors to Osteria La Libera, though La Torri and Bovio were a close second, all with different styles), seven orders of Plin in many forms (we couldn’t resist it during every meal, and top spot goes to La Libera again, though all were delicious), and six orders of Tajarin (top spot a tie between La Libera and Osteria Unione with only a slight textural difference in the pasta as the deciding factor), and without a doubt the best steak tartare at L’Eremo della Gasparina. It’s now Tuesday morning, and I’m still hurting a bit but craving a little Nebbiolo. I’ve not written since last month’s newsletter and I’m happy to finally be stationary. As usual, there are so many things to talk and think about re: all that’s happened this year. It’s Thanksgiving week and I have a lot to be thankful for, though I don’t really get to that complete gratitude moment until the week between Christmas and New Year’s when I really feel like I’m left alone to focus on cooking and non-business talk with my wife. But like summer’s promise and the anticipation of the coming harvest and the mystery of opening nature’s unpredictable gift box for the growers, I can’t help but look toward 2023 and what’s coming our way with our new producers. In January, I will share with you a little teaser for what is on the horizon for the first half of the year. There are about fifteen new producers, almost all of whom have never been imported to the US before. You know, wine importers either continue to grow or they get poached to death, so I gotta shed this plin and tajarin weight (and the weight gained on the stop in France beforehand) and get back in the office to prepare for next year. There’s always a new fire-breathing dragon on our heels and promising new winegrowers to be found. I love this job, and though it’s a privileged and fortunate métier, it’s rarely a carefree party. Well, not until Saturday dinner. California Events Friday, December 9th, San Francisco retailer DECANT sf’s 4th Annual Winter Fête from 5pm – 9pm. Join shop owners Cara and Simi along with The Source’s Hadley Kemp for this Champagne and caviar pure drinking-and-eating event. Among many other fabulous bubbles, Hadley will pour some from us, including Charlot-Tanneux, Pascal Ponson and Thierry Richoux. Call for a seat at (415) 913-7256 Saturday, December 17th, Pico at The Los Alamos General Store Bubble Bash- Champagne & Sparkling Wine Tasting from 2pm – 5pm. The Source’s Santa Barbara representative, Leigh Readey, will be pouring at their outdoor tasting event in the Pico Garden and chef Cameron is splurging on caviar and oysters. $40 per person, tickets available for purchase at https://www. exploretock.com/picolosalamos/event/377637/bubble-bash New Arrivals The short list of arrivals not covered here in depth are the new releases from Wasenhaus and a reload on Artuke’s entry level ARTUKE Rioja and their insane value for such a serious Rioja, Pies Negros. Further along I go deep on two new producers, Champagne’s Pascal Mazet, and Abruzzo’s CantinArte. And included is an overview of Arnaud Lambert’s newest arrivals (too many good things there, so it’s a little lengthy), along with Dave Fletcher’s non-Nebbiolos. New Producer Pascal Mazet, Champagne Thirty hours in Champagne is not enough time. I made stops exactly one week ago to Elise Dechannes in Les Riceys, and a new project in Les Riceys we’ll be starting with in the spring, Taisne-Riocour (a true linguistic challenge to pronounce properly in French), as well as Pascal Mazet in Montagne de Reims, before I jotted off to my hotel at Charles de Gaulle. I am as completely smitten with the Pascal Mazet wines as I was with Elise Dechannes’ the first time I tasted them, though the style is very different from Elise’s Pinot Noir-based Champagnes. Mazet's is the land where Pinot Meunier leads the pack. The lovely and humble Catherine and constantly smiling Pascal Mazet established their domaine in 1981 with 2.5 hectares from her side of the family—enviable holdings in premier cru land on the Montagne de Reims communes Chigny-les-Roses and Ludes, and a grand cru parcel in Ambonnay. Even with such scant vineyard land, Pascal and his third son, Olivier, keep it interesting with six very different wines, soon to be only five. Most of the vineyards are gentle slopes facing southeast at 150m altitude with chalk bedrock alternating with calcareous sands and clay topsoil. They’re easy to spot: green jungle patches amid neighboring vineyards growing on desolate soil. Little by little the Mazets improved their work. The purchase of a Willmes press in the 1990s gently increased the juice yield while reducing gross lees extraction at half the pressure of other presses. Organic conversion started in 2009 and was certified in 2012. Defining elements of their style are fermenting and aging in 225-liter barrels (of at least 15 years old) for eleven to fifteen months and their NV cuvées blended with wine from their 5000-liter “solera” foudre (continuously topped each year with new wine since 1981), followed by extensive lees aging in bottle—a minimum of six years, but often eight. The blends with the solera, Nature and Unique, are bottled only in particular vintages. If the wine needs dosage (to their taste), it is labeled as Unique, if no dosage, it’s Nature—each vintage is one cuvée only, and not the other; for example, 2013 and 2015 are Nature, 2014 is Unique. Dosage of all the wines is decided on taste and wine profile of the vintage. “Scraping,” rather than tilling, is done with a very small tractor (lighter than one ton) to manage superficial grasses and weeds rather than deep gouging that can destroy deeply embedded flora and fauna habitats. While not interested in fully pursuing biodynamic practice, some similar concepts and treatments are employed, like plant infusions for vineyard treatments made from nettle, horsetail, yarrow, dandelion and consoude (known as Symphytum in English), a flower with a multitude of medical uses for animals (including humans!) as well as plants. Pascal (left) and Olivier Mazet At age of twenty-seven, Olivier Mazet took full control in 2018 after completing his university studies in 2014 with an engineering degree specialized in viticulture and enology from the Ecole Supérieur d’Agriculture, in Angers. Olivier’s long view is focused on agroforestry to improve biodiversity in and around the vineyards to help their resilience against disease, improve soil structures by letting nature do a lot of the work—with its billions of years of experience and knowledge—and to try to better cover their viticultural carbon footprint. Olivier’s older brother, Baptiste, also joined the team in 2020. The vineyard collection is about 1.3 hectares (3.2 acres) of Pinot Meunier, 46 ares (0.46 hectare) of Chardonnay, and 23 ares of Pinot Noir, all with an average age of forty years (2022), and 22 of sixty-year-old Pinot Blanc. The yield from their 8000-10000 vines per hectare (similar to Burgundy) in a normal year is around 55hl/ha. Mazet’s solera foudre is a singular experience. I asked Olivier for a taste of it during our first visit together. He looked to Pascal, who seemed surprised by the request, but he agreed to fill a small bottle to taste. When out of the room, Olivier raised his eyebrows, smiled, and said “It’s very unusual that he lets anyone taste from the foudre.” Over the years I’ve often thrown out the descriptor for extremely minerally wines that, “they taste like liquid rock!” This wine was a recalibration of that description in that I would say it was equally rock and metal. It truly was like tasting liquid rock and metal, almost no fruit at all—purely elemental. Never in my entire career have I had a wine so specific as that. What surprised me the most was how unoxidized it was and the purity of color, like looking through the prism of a diamond, the flickering reflection of the sun off the glistening sea. Its taste I will never forget and will always recognize in the mix of Nature, Unique and Originel, the wines to get dosed with this vinous nitrous oxide. The foudre “Nature” comes from all of their parcels and is a blend of 45% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. 60% is 2013 vintage wine while the remainder is from their single 50hl “solera” foudre, with zero dosage. “Unique” mirrors “Nature,” though it comes from an entirely different vintage base wine, as mentioned earlier. The grape mix is the same, as is the amount of vintage wine, this case from 2014, while the remainder is from their single 50hl “solera” foudre, with 4g/L dosage. “Originel” is composed of 35% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Blanc, and 15% each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, all from two different plots: Chardonnay from “Les Sentiers” on chalk and clay, and Pinot Blanc from chalk and sand (with correspondingly earlier ripening) of “La Pruches d’en Haut,” an originel plot that was listed as a terroir of Champagne before the 1800s. 60% of this wine is from 2013 and 40% from the “solera” foudre, with 3g/L dosage. “Millésime,” as the name suggests, is Mazet’s vintage Champagne. The 2015 is a blend of all the different parcels with a mix of 45% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. It’s aged exclusively in 225-liter French oak casks of at least 15 years old, with zero dosage. CantinArte, Abruzzo I will be the first to admit I am not an expert in Italian wines, despite working in and visiting Italian producers regularly since 2004 and a one-year residence in Campania; it’s a country hard to master if it’s not your main focus. I improve every year but the depth of this peninsula and its islands and mountains can be overwhelming. Abruzzo, for one, is a region I haven’t even tried to wrap my head around (though I don’t have the time yet to dig in like I’d like to) because of its vast expanse and my lack of I’ve been to Abruzzo twice, and other Italian wine regions like Piemonte thirty, if not forty times. I have a grip but still feel like an advanced amateur in Piemonte, so you can imagine how I feel about Abruzzo. I can talk about a few of the big names in Abruzzo and their unique styles (and complain about their strangely high prices), but I can’t speak about the appellation as a whole—maybe only on a flashcard level. For this reason I’m glad that our new Abruzzo producer CantinArte (which I competitively tasted among other wines in the region to figure out if they truly were a stylistic match for us in taste and philosophy, before opting in) has their own small section of Montepulciano grapes in Bucchianico, in the Province of Chieti. It’s about ten kilometers from the Adriatic on a soft sloping southeast exposition (a preferential direction for freshness!) on deep clay topsoil, which is helpful to mitigate arid weather through good water retention. Plus, it’s in the middle of nowhere high up in the mountains with mainland Italy’s most consistently clean air (a unique fact), with no one else nearby. While Francesca Di Nosio’s husband Diego Gasbarri developed his career as an engineer with a degree in Environmental Engineering (an expertise quite useful for their organic vineyards and olive tree groves) and built his small company from scratch in Civil engineering, she was bitten by the wine bug in her teenage years. Her first inspiration was her grandparents, who made wine only for the family’s consumption. Her studies in university were initially focused on Latin and Ancient Greek, and later Marketing and Communication, but a trip in her teenage years to UC Davis in 1988 with her father sparked an interest in winegrowing that eventually grew into a spiritual and cultural bonfire. Eventually she went to France to work in vineyards around Lyon and then a year at the biodynamic Chianti Classico cantina, Querciabella. During her time in Greve in Chianti, she became convinced of her future in wine and went home to start CantinArte with the Montepulciano vineyards her grandparents planted in the 1970s. Francesca Di Nosio, CantinArte Curious about all things, Francesca loves most her connection with people, the talks about culture and wine and food. A mother of two, she remains a complete romantic overflowing with hospitality and kindness and gushing with an eagerness to please. (Anyone would laugh if they heard some of the enthusiastic and fun voice messages I’ve received from her over the last two years.) When asked what she would like for people to feel about her wines, the take away after mentions of mineral freshness and uniqueness was that she wants people to feel their joy. What else? CantinArte’s 740m white wine vineyards The vineyard project high up in the mountains where they’ve planted Pecorino and Pinot Grigio are in Diego’s familial neighborhood, Navelli, a gorgeous old rock village in the Provincia dell’Aquila, an hour drive up into the mountains from the Adriatic to a completely different setting from their Montepulciano vineyards. These new vineyards (first vintages bottled 2021 for both varieties) are at an unusually high altitude for Abruzzo viticulture at 740m (~2,400ft). At first, they thought maybe it was a gamble to go so high, but the results are beyond promising. This place is perfectly suited for these white varieties with a bedrock and topsoil that have an uncanny resemblance to those of the Côte d’Or (a place I’ve dug around in for years): fractured, stark white limestone rocks from a different geological age mixed with reddish-brown clay atop limestone bedrock. They are some of the most striking examples of both varieties I’ve had, and not surprisingly unique with their tense, mountain acidity and even some petillance in the 2021 Pinot Grigio IGT Terre Aquilane “Colori” that gives it extra charge. I remain perplexed by this Pinot Grigio (not only for its bubbles) with its vinous capture of clean mountain air, sweet green herbs, sweet lime and green melon fruit. I’m constantly surprised when I think about this wine (often) and what they did differently than others, outside of spontaneous ferments, low total SO2 (less than 60ppm), and organic farming at super high altitude. I know, Ted Vance, the perpetual wine sales guy, now waxing lyrically about Pinot Grigio? Don’t write it off so easily. This stuff is different, and I guess one shouldn’t summarily dismiss any grapes from the Pinot family when they are done in a serious way! Though the Pinot Grigio is captivating, most will likely go for the 2021 Pecorino IGT Terre Aquilane “Colori,” not only because it is a more classical variety from these parts, but also because it is likely viewed as more complex. High altitude Pecorino works, and the biotypes Diego selected for the plantation originate from northern Abruzzo at very high altitudes— mostly in territories without much commercial production but rather from families who produce for themselves. Here, the brine of the sea in the wine is exchanged for a cold mountain, herb-filled aromatic breeze. This variety seems to have a natural salinity anyway, so you won’t miss much there. The difference between here and 400m down and closer to the sea is that the mountain wines will have a little less oxidation, higher pH levels (3.10-3.15 for both Pinot Grigio and Pecorino), more angles than curves, pungent rocky mineral impressions due to the rockier soil with little topsoil, and the effects of a massive diurnal shift at the high altitude—summer days around 35C (95°F) drop to 16°C (60°F) at night—and without the big spice rack imposed by more heat and solar power closer to the sea at lower altitudes. This white wine project seems to be Diego’s thing more than Francesca’s—it’s his home turf while closer to the sea is hers—and his new Pecorino experiment out of amphora I tasted a little over a month ago caught me with my jaw on the floor, yet again. I can’t wait to see if that one gets into bottle in the same shape it is in amphora! Diego Gasbarri, CantinArte CantinArte’s two parcels of Montepulciano in Bucchianico sit around 300m (~1000ft) and were planted in the mid-seventies, with another part in the early 2010s by Francesca and Diego. The younger vines are used for the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo and the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Ode” and the older vines for their Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Rosso Puro. I admit that my greater initial personal interest in Abruzzo was to find a mesmerizing Cerasuolo rather than an Abruzzo red or white. I’ve had a few Cerasuolo from names that most in the trade know well but can rarely find—let alone afford—that give me a stir while others can be a lot of fun to drink, but most are innocuous wines. I find that the most compelling reds and whites of Abruzzo are so often crafted in such an individual way at very specific cantinas under the direction of uniquely special people that it was hard to imagine finding another inspiring standalone superstar in a sea of Trebbiano and Montepulciano. My interactions with CantinArte’s Cerasuolos, like the 2020 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, and the 2019 before it, hit the mark. I also found that in classical style for this category with high quality producers that they are quiet and tucked in upon opening (the best often need decanting to get past too much gas, and, well, we don’t have all day when we’re ready to drink rosé, right?) which is further exacerbated by a cold serving temperature straight out of the fridge. But with some time open, the structure of this twenty-four-hour skin maceration concedes its authority in CantinArte’s Cerasuolo to fresh red spring fruits and the joy Francesca wants us to experience. It’s a wonderful wine when it hits its stride (half an hour after opening) and maintains a very focused direction. A perfect Sunday lunch wine served at a red wine temperature, it will bloom with the promise of spring into a leafless autumn afternoon meal with good company. Today being Thanksgiving (at least as I write this segment on a dreary, rain-filled Portuguese morning), my mind screams, “Everyone knows that Beaujolais is a fabulous match for today’s traditional fare, but bring on the Cerasuolo!” It’s made in a straightforward way in steel tanks and with grapes organically farmed close to the sea at 300m on clay, facing southeast. The 2019 was a very good but the 2020 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Ode” may even be better. My first interaction with these fully destemmed reds on day one was very good but the second day was always another level for both—first day expected, the second a good surprise for a variety that often seems to put all the cards on the table in short order. Its freshness afterburner (even more so than the first day) demonstrates how picking is prioritized on the earlier side in the season along with rigorous sorting. For these reasons, they show little to no sense of desiccation or brown notes in the spectrum of fruit (a concern for me with young wines from these sunny parts), just a minerally, cool and refreshing palate texture, and ethereal aromatic qualities on top of its natural savory earthiness. Ode is more of a straightforward approach with stainless steel fermenting (10-12 days) and aging (12 months) and is void of tweaks that make it feel heavy-handed, using unique techniques rather than relying on excellent and conscious organic farming with an environmental engineer’s eye for detail. And of course, the joy of the family behind it. The 2010 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Rosso Puro” comes from the vineyard of Francesca’s grandparents planted in the 1970s. Since the beginning, even prior to the organic certification in 2014, only copper and sulfur were sprayed in the vines when she first started. Francesca says that the main difference in the vineyard is the evolution of the yeasts from the vineyards without any synthetic treatments. As mentioned, this wine is grown on clay on a southeast face, and was destemmed during its three-week fermentation/maceration and raised for three years in no new oak, instead with some first year and mostly older used French oak barrels. This southeast face is key for the freshness of both reds and their Cerasuolo. Though Rosso Puro is one year short of being a teenager, it’s in its middle age, its prime, and perfect now. It’s a good introduction to southern-Italian wine style—even though it’s from the center of Italy—with reminiscent notes similar to aged Aglianico in Taurasi, minus the thick-boned structure. There is very little of this wine available and we expect the 2013 to arrive with our next order. Arnaud Lambert, Loire Valley There are few who candidly share their process with me as much as Arnaud Lambert does, and I had yet another great visit with him a few weeks ago. Perpetually on the move, he always has something new to share about his progress. We had lunch in Saumur at Bistro de la Place in the center of town. It was cold and drizzly. Perfect for a lunch of foie gras and trotters—my usual “light” fare in France; it really is hard for me to stick with “clean” eating in that country. Arnaud asked me to pick the wine and I was pleasantly surprised to see a bottle of 2018 Domaine de la Vallée Moray’s Montlouis “Aubépin,” a wine and producer unfamiliar to Arnaud, furthermore quite unfamiliar in the world as of now, though that won’t last. The sommelier perked up when I named the wine. He came back and poured. I said nothing, just waited. Arnaud took his time, eyes in contemplation, swirling the glass, then sloshing the wine around in his mouth. It was a very impressive first glass (which means the second will be even better!) and I knew he was taken long before he said anything. He commented how remarkable it was for 2018, a difficult vintage with depth and stuffing, which this wine has in spades. During my previous visit with Arnaud, Romain Guiberteau and Brendan Stater-West, I talked about the new producers I’m starting to work with in Montlouis, including Vallée Moray. I was happy to share this bottle. Hopefully Arnaud will come with me to Montlouis on my next trip to meet Hervé Grenier, the humble master who crafted this gorgeously deep Chenin Blanc, among other unexpectedly fabulous and authentic vinous creations. Hervé’s wines will be on offer in January, though the quantities are painfully small. Chenin Blanc Everyone’s lucky to have access to this bigtime lineup from Arnaud. It’s serious juice from recent vintages that he feels have moved well into the direction he’s pursued since his start, tweaking and experimenting along the way to find this specific line. Oak decisions on Chenin Blanc are milder than the recent years—a conversation we’ve had regularly. The previous years were good, and often great, but sometimes time is needed to punch through the oak when the wines are young. Eventually they make it through but perhaps at a cost of some delicate nuances. One thing I’ve noticed with the Saumur wines we work with is that there is often a lot of intensity and vibration rather than rhythmic melody. Arnaud has doggedly sought and seemingly found his tune, a taming of the shivering intensity of this area of Saumur, highlighting the vinous quality often left behind or beat down by the wood in its youth. The innocence of Midi always stood as the north star to his range of Chenin for me, with its crystalline purity, captured joy, and echoes of Arnaud’s deeply hued and thoughtful Belgian bluestone eyes. There are a few goodies arriving from Arnaud’s entry-level Chenin spectrum. 2021 Clos de Midi is more than just a good opener for the range. This year is second to none compared to every young wine I’ve had from this vineyard in the middle (midi) of the slope. I asked Arnaud for more entry-level white, and while it’s almost impossible to increase the quantity of Clos de Midi, he proposed his 2021 St. Cyr en Bourg Chenin Blanc. This all comes from his organic parcels in St. Cyr en Bourg (home to Coulee de St. Cyr and Les Perrieres, just across the way from Brézé), and is made the same as Clos de Midi, in stainless steel. You can’t go wrong with any of Arnaud’s 2021s. The triumphant trio of Chenin Blanc starts at the blocks with 2020 Clos David, a straight shooter and in all ways minerally and rocky, followed by the powerful and usually slow to evolve (though this year is a little more extroverted than years past) 2019 Brézé grown in deeper clay soils atop tuffeau bedrock, all anchored by the 2019 Clos de la Rue. Each is worthy of any serious wine program, though the Brézé is extremely limited. 2019 is likely the best bottling of this wine I’ve had (when young), but Clos de la Rue remains king for me year in and year out after tasting these wines since the 2009 vintage—the Brézé cuvée first bottling was 2014. Seemingly without limits in evolution and a constant rediscovery from one glass to the next, Clos de la Rue is poised with balance and deep core strength. Though Clos David is the bargain cru at the price, and Brézé the muscular unicorn with only two barrels made, Clos de la Rue is the must-have in the lineup. Cabernet Franc Arnaud is in perpetual internal war over his reds. I’ve often pushed for Clos Mazurique to be the guiding light: matter over mind, and hand. Over the years Arnaud reduced his extractions, starting in 2012 with fewer than one movement each day down from three during fermentation—a good decision and still upheld though with even fewer now, only around three vigorous movements for the entire length of fermentation and extended maceration. Next was zero sulfiting until after malolactic fermentation, which turned out to be far less risky than expected. (All one must do is go into his freezing barrel room to know that almost nothing will grow in those wines, only the most resilient of cellar molds on the outside of barrels and the tuffeau rock walls and ceiling.) Eventually that evolved into a solitary addition only at bottling with not a milligram before. The total sulfite levels today are around 25ppm (25mg/L). Both steps were crucial in his evolution. Most recently, however, is the approach on new wood with less is more. This step is more recent, but if there were ever a vintage to digest the new oak entirely, it would be 2019. It also helps that the top red wines, Clos Moleton and Clos de l’Etoile, with about 30% new oak, were in those same barrels for thirty months to eventually shed most of the undesired wood nuances and wood tannins. Considering the pH levels of these wines, they will never flaunt the wood as other higher pH varieties. I don’t really know why that is, but I’ve observed it, as have many other winegrowers. Newer wood tames, manicures, and sculpts. All good things with Bordeaux and Burgundy, I guess, but not for me with Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. In some ways, newer wood forces manners and etiquette, though I find the nature of Cabernet Franc to be earth-led, with sunlight, spring flowers and spring fruits, a little bit of untamed beast, and maybe even a little solemnity. It’s not at all a confectionary variety with a party personality, so I don’t find that it melds well with sweet, vanilla, toasty, resiny, smoky new wood on it. New wood often neuters Cabernet Franc’s most alluring attributes (as it does other wines), trading out the wild forest, underbrush, and wild animal for stately statue gardens and their regularly trimmed shrubbery. The style works anyway with Cabernet Franc caught somewhere between Burgundy, Bordeaux and the overly polished and utterly boring (again, neutered!) versions of new-wood Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Indeed, Saumur rouge and Saumur-Champigny are not the Northern Rhône Valley’s rustic, burly, salty, meaty, bloody, metal, minerally type—though that is what I often want it to lean more toward, though only toward, without succumbing entirely. I think most of us have a good idea of what would happen if one goes full Tarzan with Cabernet Franc. And this variety isn’t Red Burgundy: celebrated, predictable, still exciting (sometimes when young, but mostly with older wines from cooler years), but rarely unexpected, even when the very best show their might, excluding producers like Mugnier, and Leroy (may she live forever, though I can no longer afford or justify the cost to drink anything adorned with her name and crown.) Can these overly crafted wines be a little too good? Like Tom Brady-too-good? So much so that you don’t want it anymore? That you should root for someone else? An underdog such as a Cabernet Franc? I find that Saumur and Saumur-Champigny are often a reflection of its residents, their good manners, happiness and generosity, their contained, clean and well-dressed but slightly casual presentation and warmth; it’s only the weather that brings the chill here, not usually the people. I almost moved to Saumur. I love the place; its gorgeous tuffeau off-white castles and even its simplest tuffeau structures and barns. It’s easy to navigate in the city, much of which was rebuilt after World War II, though not as badly damaged as other Loire Valley cities like Tours. I always feel safe in greater Anjou and Touraine. I don’t mean only from a physical safety perspective but rather that I never feel rushed, like I’m not going to get run over, harassed, or impatiently talked to when my French isn’t on point. Maybe the soft rolling hills and the serenity of the river soften them. Maybe it’s that they lost too many people and things during WWII, which forced a lot of familial and city reconstruction that made them humbler than some other French wine regions? I feel Arnaud continues to move closer to embracing the earthen, well-dressed beast Cabernet Franc can be, despite his reference points and training in Beaune and seeming desire to be closer to a Burgundy wine in overall effect. It’s not a bad objective to want to walk beside Burgundy, though I’m still confused even when I use the term “Burgundian” to try to bring understanding to the style of a non-Burgundy wine. I think I used to know better what I meant by it. Cabernet Franc from Saumur and Saumur-Champigny somehow expresses its dark clay and rocky limestone topsoil and tuffeau bedrock. In the best examples it seems like they drop the clusters on the vineyard ground, toss in some aromatic brush and herbs, wild berries, mash it up a little and then throw them into fermentation bins with the grapes, thereby collecting all that earthy and wilderness nuance. That’s where I see Arnaud going in overall profile, and I do hope that’s where he ends up. Cabernet Franc is an easy grape in many ways when good table wine is what’s wanted, but despite its agreeability its inspiring renditions only come from top sites grown by top minds and hard workers. Farming is crucial and the wines need to be left alone in the cellar to sort themselves out and be put to bottle without much of a mark of ego, neglect, bad taste, or indecision. Intention with Cabernet Franc is crucial. Epic never happens here by accident. Leading off the red range are Arnaud’s two impossible not to like wines (if you have taste for Loire Valley Cabernet Franc!): the 2021 Saumur-Champigny Les Terres Rouges and 2021 Saumur Clos Mazurique. Here you will find Arnaud’s best red wines that have ever borne these labels, no doubt about it. I said it while tasting with Arnaud a few weeks ago, and he agreed. He explained that he found a new way! (As he always does every single year.) They are gorgeous and follow a line of truth for this variety expressing the purity of their terroirs through simple, more-thought-and-less-action winemaking, all a concession to the organic farming (started in 2010) and the need to work with the vine’s nature instead of against it. I shouldn’t spend so much time on them because despite a good number of cases of each arriving, all of them already have a devout following in our supply chain and they’re all expecting their usual share. Perhaps these two reds, like Clos de Midi, are now out of most by-the-glass ranges, but for the price sensitive section of the wine list’s bottle selection, they will be stars for those who are still concerned about the tally on the bill in the face of an increasingly more expensive world. Comparing the hills of Brézé and Saint-Cyr through the lens of Arnaud’s wines is a testament to the validity of terroir. The hills more or less look the same in shape, though Brézé is far more attractive with its forest cap and the famous Chateau de Brézé’s ancient tuffeau limestone walls encircling it like a crown, compared to Saint-Cyr’s slope capped off with the industrial Saumur winery co-op on top, which Arnaud’s grandfather helped establish. The big difference between them is that Saint-Cyr could be described as more homogenous in soil structure with a lot of clay topsoil on most vineyards, while Brézé is a patchwork of many different topsoil structures ranging from almost pure calcareous sand (Clos David), sandy loam (Clos Mazurique, Clos Tue Loup, top section of Clos de l’Etoile), clayey loam (Clos de la Rue), and clay (Brézé cuvée, and bottom section of Clos de l’Etoile). Both hills have tuffeau bedrock and most of the Cabernet Franc parcels have deeper clay topsoil atop the roche-mère. Think of clay-rich sites as a George Foreman-like wine, clay-loam as Muhammad Ali, and sand as Oscar de la Hoya. The pity of this lineup of reds is the missing comparative between Brézé’s Clos du Tue Loup and Saint-Cyr’s Montée des Roches (gravelly loam), the latter of which is not on this boat. Arnaud’s 2020 Saumur “Clos Tue Loup” was raised in only older barrels for a little over a year. I’ve always loved this wine for its higher tones, deep red fruit and cool mineral palate. It embodies what I love the most from this hill and the balance of power. The big hitters, 2019 Saumur-Champigny “Clos Moleton” (Saint-Cyr) and 2019 Saumur “Clos de l’Etoile” (Brézé) are clear demonstrations of somewhat subtle terroir differences that make quite an impact on the final wines. Same bedrock but different topsoil. As mentioned, Clos de l’Etoile has two different soil structures. The upper section is sandy loam and the lower section, clay. This combo makes a wine with great structure but also a little more lift than its near twin on the other hill. By contrast, Clos Moleton is atop a big slab of clay. Like Foreman, it’s formidable, methodical, powerful, intense, with a little chub and a fun personality, especially with more age. L’Etoile is a heavyweight, no doubt, but much faster hand and foot speed and equipped with a silver tongue: Ali. 2019 is one of Arnaud’s greatest achievements in red which makes the miniscule quantities of these two powerhouse reds unfortunate. When you pull the cork do it for a table of two (for sommeliers) or at home with a good friend and a nice long conversation, rather than at a party. Evolution is key here and these heavyweights need twelve rounds in the glass to put on the full show. Fletcher, Barbaresco (Non-Barbaresco wines) Holding up the rear of this newsletter (the caboose, if you will) is the Aussie expat living in what was once the Barbaresco train station, Dave Fletcher. The difference between Dave and many other foreigners making wine in Langhe is that he works a tiny, one- man operation with a little help only when he really needs it, unlike the millionaires buying all vineyards that are on the market for double the previous year’s going rate. His day job since 2009 has been at Ceretto, working as a cellar hand where he eventually became their full time winemaker, pushing organic and then biodynamic farming on them, with great success as they are now under both cultures. I finally visited Ceretto on this last trip in mid-November and I cannot believe the style change he helped instill. The wines now are crystalline, bright, aromatic, almost no new wood (around 50% new when he started but now less than 10%), and graceful, like Vietti’s new style. Dave’s renditions of Barbaresco under the Fletcher label are the real deal. They’re not from big botte because he doesn’t have the volume from any Barbaresco cru to fill one because there are only about fifty or so cases of each made. He’s a real garagiste, or I guess I could say stationiste because he lives in and ages his Barbarescos (in the underground cellar) in the train station he and his wife, Elenora, bought and renovated. I love being in that building, where they did their best to preserve the layout on the first floor, ticket window and all. It’s easy to imagine it filled with Italians traveling away from their home in these hills to Turin for work, after having abandoned their multi-generational vineyards to enter manufacturing jobs just to survive. It was a sad time then and the Langhe was the poorest area in all of Italy after WWII. Things have changed. Despite its current overflow of riches, the vast majority of the Piemontese still carry on many generations of humility, warmth and comradery. It remains for me my spiritual Italian homeland. Dave has pushed his Chardonnay on me for years. They were always good and often I didn’t let him know it because even though I liked them I thought our customer base would think, “Aussie Langhe Chardonnay? Wtf, Ted?”, when Aussie Barbaresco was a tough sell to begin with. I was convinced that Chardonnay might turn the Piemontese traditionalist buyers off from his Nebbiolo wines. I’ve come to realize that that was just me standing in the way, with good intentions of course, to protect and help build Dave’s traditional Piemontese style wines in the market first before letting in his irrepressible Down Under. Dave’s 2021 Chardonnay C21 exemplifies what he’s capable of and his New World versatility and open mind. He’s proud of this wine, and he should be. He loves Burgundy, and he’s followed its stylistic line with his vineyard planted on extremely high pH limestone soils (though here its sandy topsoil compared to Burgundy’s clay), his early picks to preserve tension (this vintage August 21, but he says this is the new norm) and prefers grapes without much direct sun contact—more green than golden. It’s Burgundian in style in that its 30% new oak and the rest in older oak casks. If one were to serve it blind—things we only do with non-Burgundy Chardonnays to try to fool each other into thinking its a Burgundy—especially after it was open for thirty minutes with a little bit of aeration in the glass before my first sniff and taste, I may have a hard time going away from Burgundy, though probably not within the Côte de Beaune. It’s not really New Worldy (mostly because of the similar calcium carbonate influence as Burgundy) but rather somewhere between the style of PYCM–though a little tighter and not fluffed up–and JC Ramonet, but less toasty and lactic. Perhaps its softer textural grip would give it away and take you right back to the Langhe, but I doubt it, unless you know well Langhe Chardonnay. It’s a good wine indeed, especially at its fair price for this category and quality. Definitely worth a look for those craving that fairy dust that’s so hard to find outside of Burgundy’s Chardonnay wines. Orange wine is in, and Dave’s 2021 Arcato is a dandy. He prides himself on craft and he’s sharp on technical tastings, so you kind of know what you’re getting here when you mix early picked 75% Arneis destemmed and crushed, and 25% Moscato whole cluster fermented and macerated, and a final alcohol of 11.8%, labeled 12. It’s a very technically sound wine from a classical point of view, but it’s also delicious and intriguing, a joy to drink. I like it a lot. Not so quirky, just well done and with a lot of personality from these two grapes, one on the neutral and understated side and the other more flamboyant and abundantly aromatic as a still wine. He also nailed the label for this fun wine category—a retailer’s dream etichetta for this category. I’ve been a fan since my first taste of Dave’s Barbera d’Alba made with partial whole clusters. His new rendition, the 2021 Barbera d’Alba comes from a vineyard in Alba with sixty-year- old vines. He said he had to do a lot of sorting because of Barbera’s soft skins, which tend to shrivel a little more than other regional red grapes. The 2021 shows a little bit more mature development on the red fruit due to the heat spike, and he intends to do two picks in the future because of the variability of maturity on the vines. This is delicious stuff and a fun reboot for this ubiquitous Piemontese grape with southern Italian origins.
Before the 2014 vintage, I suggested Arnaud begin to isolate the most interesting parcels of Chenin Blanc that haven’t yet been made into single cru wines to explore for new and previously overlooked talented parcels. The plan was to make two barrels from each site, observe and taste them through their élevage, and if we were both pleased with the results, I guaranteed that I’d buy and sell them in California. There are four in total: the first was in 2014 and bottled under Domaine de St. Just, simply labeled Brézé, followed by a barrel-aged Clos du Midi bottled only in magnums, and finally we have today's Bonne Nouvelle and Montsoreau which in 2016, their first vintage, were a great success. There are only two barrels of each of these wines made for the entire world and all the wines are in California. The Wines Lambert’s vineyard area in Montsoreau is largely planted up on a plateau that sits above the Loire River on flatter sites with deeper clay composition—often between sixty centimeters to a couple meters deep, preferential topsoil depth and composition for Cabernet Franc. There is also a special, nearly pure tuffeau limestone site within his familial Montsoreau vineyards with almost no topsoil from which he makes this superb Chenin Blanc. While inside the Saumur-Champigny appellation, to bear the appellation name “Saumur-Champigny” a wine must be made exclusively from Cabernet Franc, and it’s for this reason that this wine is labeled as a Saumur appellation wine. Arnaud’s Montsoreau Chenin Blanc is a wine with more opulence and flash than usual. Balanced out by a dense core and somewhat gently polished square edges, when compared to Lambert's white wines from further south of the appellation in the colder zones, like Brézé and Saint-Cyr, the Montsoreau is more upfront and rich in body. Aged similarly to Bonne Nouvelle, in order to preserve the voice of the vineyard terroir, it’s aged one year, in two 228-liter old French oak barrels. Like the Bonne Nouvelle in quantity, there are only roughly five hundred bottles produced for the entire world. Rarities? Indeed. Bonne Nouvelle comes from the now famous Saumur commune, Brézé. The topsoil here in this commune varies greatly, even within sections of the same clos (enclosed vineyard), but the bedrock is tuffeau limestone, a sandy, very porous white rock. Generally speaking, Arnaud’s Chenin Blanc sites on Brézé have a larger mixture of sand and clay than the Cabernet Franc sites, which prosper more from deeper clay topsoil with less sand. The sandy soils of Brézé render white wines with more high tones and the wines tend to demonstrate a strong lead of polished and straightforward mineral impressions with less quirky characteristics than many other Chenin Blanc grown in the Loire Valley. In French, Bonne Nouvelle means good news—a suitable name for this wine. Originally this single clos on Brézé was used for sweet wines, and in 2016 Arnaud committed to our experiment of making a still wine from the vineyard, and we’re so glad he did! The vineyard is just next to Arnaud’s top Cabernet Franc vineyard, Clos de L’Etoile, and is on a uniquely coarse, rich, deep orangish-tan limestone sand derived mostly from small seashell fragments and the underlying tuffeau; interestingly, it looks a lot like the topsoil composition of Château Rayas. The result is a white wine of aromatic lift, deep texture and savory characteristics. As with Montsoreau, there were only two barrels made (roughly forty-five cases) and all are sold exclusively to The Source.
The May edition of the Inside Source Club, featured bottles from one of our true heroes of wine, Arnaud Lambert. It’s difficult to write about Arnaud without eliciting chuckles, because after just a few words one begins to sound ridiculous. He’s young. He’s talented. He’s hardworking. Thoughtful. Focused. Studious. Committed. Charming. You get the picture. Seriously, the guy is a dream, and we at The Source feel incredibly fortunate to be working with him. Oh, and, as you’ll taste, his wines are knockouts too. Though all the wines in May’s shipment come from the hand of Arnaud, the theme wasn't to showcase the hand of the winemaker. It was to talk about terroir, specifically how limestone expression is mediated by the presence of sand and clay. Indeed, we can approach Arnaud’s winemaking here as a control factor, an element we can now remove from the equation to better examine the differences in terroir between a handful of sites. But first, let’s complete the portrait of Arnaud, because he’s someone you should know. In 1996 Arnaud’s father Yves, a banker, began Domaine de Saint-Just in the Saumur region of the Loire (more on this below). Freshly returned from winemaking studies in Bordeaux, Arnaud joined him in 2005. They also made a deal with the Comte of the nearby (and spectacular) Château de Brézé to farm his vineyards and market the wine. Hence the two labels you see today, Domaine de Saint-Just and Château de Brézé (one day we hope both labels may be consolidated under one brand). Yves died unexpectedly and tragically in 2011, leaving the estate under the control of Arnaud. Arnaud had already begun the conversion of their vineyards to organic farming in 2009, work he continues today. It’s a long and assiduous process, as the soils in this region had been decimated by fifty years of chemical farming. Only in the last few years has Arnaud begun to see the reappearance of real verve in his soils. Where is Saumur? It’s in the middle Loire, as opposed to the upper Loire to the east (featuring Sancerre) and the lower Loire to the west (featuring Muscadet). While technically attached to the subregion of Anjou, Saumur perhaps has more in common with the nearby western Touraine, whose villages Chinon and Bourgeuil are also famous for red wines, as well as whites. The reds come from Cabernet Franc, the whites from Chenin Blanc. All Arnaud’s wines are grown just a few miles apart, on a vast and massive chalky limestone subsoil, known here as tuffeau. It’s just the top layers that differ. Before we get to the wines specifically, a quick shout out to the vintage. Three brutally difficult years in a row (hail, frost, deluge) and a bad start to 2014 was taking a psychological toll on the region. As importer Jon David Headrick observed in a note: “By the end of this stretch of vintages you could see the stress and strain on the faces of many growers. Many of their neighbors were going out of business. Money was tight. Vacations were cancelled. Prices were raised. The summer of their discontent, to bastardize Shakespeare, was in full swing.” In the 2014 summer, sunny days alternated with rainy ones—a recipe for disaster. Humid, warm weather invites rot, which began to grip the vineyards during July and August. Thankfully, September brought redemption, ushering six weeks of sublime sun that banished the rot, dried the vineyards, and ripened the clusters. The result is a vintage that luxuriates in sun-bathed ripeness, but retains snap thanks to elevated acidities. It drinks well right now, but will even harmonize more over the next several years. Saumur Blanc 2014 Château de Brézé “Clos du Midi” 2014 Domaine de Saint-Just “Les Perrieres” The Loire is lovely region, bucolic and calm, verdant with vineyards, forests, and farmland. It lacks the towering, steep spectacles of places like the Northern Rhone. Indeed, what passes for high altitude in this region are the low-lying hills (which could also be called mounds or hillocks) of Brézé and Saint-Cyr. Just a few miles apart these elevations face each other. Both have been sites of excellent Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc since at least the Middle Ages and probably much longer. Brézé is the more famous and slightly higher of the two in no small part because of the palatial Château that guards one side of it. Both are undergirded with that deep layer of tuffeau. And both feature a wash of different soils that vary between heavier clays and lighter sands deposited via millennia of the Loire floodplains. In the case of these two wines, we wish to demonstrate what difference the amount of clay or sand makes in a limestone-based wine. The Clos du Midi sits high on Brézé as one of the colder sites on the hill. With nearly ten acres in production, it’s a pretty big vineyard, so there is some soil variance, mainly with some clay holding down the bottom of the slope, while the upper slope is mostly sandy in nature. Lurking not far beneath it all is that soft, but dense limestone. You’ll notice the Clos du Midi’s electric acidity and wiry, lean body. Indeed, as Ted wrote in his original note, “When I first tasted this wine, it was like sticking my finger in a light socket!” Sandy terroirs tend to offer great ripeness, but not always much roundness, as the water drains quickly from the ground, leaving little chance for the roots to take it up and feed off the minerals in the soil. In (slight) contrast, check out the Saint-Just “Les Perrieres.” The flavors, which run between dried herbs, tea, apples, and lemons, are not entirely different, but the wine has more body and roundness due to the heavier clay and silt of this vineyard, which also has less slope. The wine is just as delicious, just has a slightly more rounded profile. Both are absolutely delicious and share the common thread of that densely chalky core. The other beautiful thing about both is their amazing versatility with food. Yes, fish and seafood are obvious and excellent matches. But the zippy acidity and sharp flavors will also pair beautifully with the bounty of spring and summer vegetables at your local farmers’ markets right now. Saumur Rouge 2014 Château de Brézé “Clos Tue-Loup” 2014 Domaine de Saint-Just “Montee des Roches” Again, we find ourselves comparing two hills with wines that are almost like siblings, sharing that powerful limestone signature, which in red wine allows for a powerful flavor stamp on top of a structure that’s elegant and complex without being too fleshy. The Cabernet Franc from Brézé is amazing. Raised only in old oak, it shows the large limestone rocks that lurk under the layer of clay at the vineyard. The clay provides the flesh, while the tuffeau gives that ethereal structure which somehow supports that riot of red and blacks fruit flavors. We love the complexity that follows, which range from notes of sweet spring flowers to heavier sensations of wet earth, gravel, and iodine. The terroir of Saint-Cyr’s Montée des Roches is a little different, with less than 20 inches of limestone-derived sand and a little clay before the tuffeau substrate begins. Arnaud works these soils very carefully, removing the superficial roots and encouraging the rest to dig deeper into the limestone, which for this wine they clearly do. It’s like drinking straight from the limestone. We can’t say it better than what Ted wrote, “The wine matches clearly its terroir with an immediately full mouthfeel brought on by the clay soils, followed by a straight, slightly tangy acidic finish from its rocky underbelly. The wine starts with rich dark earth and forest floor, spare in fruit and evolves into a perfectly supple and finely textured Cabernet Franc.” Please enjoy these delicious wines from the magical hills of Saumur and the charmed hand of Arnaud Lambert. Happy drinking! Don't miss next month's Inside Source edition. Join our Wine Club today and receive a 10% off all website purchases for the membership duration.
We again found ourselves at Les Trois Bourgeons for dinner, at a table further away from the constant, freezing draft coming from the front door. Ted sat at the head of the table between Andrea and Sébastien Christophe, looking forward to the arrival of Arnaud Lambert, another one of his favorite producers, who was on his way over from his domaine in the Loire Valley. Ted had been wanting to introduce him to Sébastien for a long time; he thought they had a lot in common in how they do things, and it gives him great pleasure to bring vignerons together. Arnaud appeared in the courtyard outside the restaurant, and Ted said, “Yup, there he is in one of his signature pink sweaters.” He came in with his wife, Géraldine, a tall brunette who looks like a model. Ted made introductions all around, and Arnaud offered us a shy smile. Then, much to Ted’s chagrin, he and Géraldine took seats at the other end of the table. Ted ordered another bottle of Rousset’s St. Joseph. The one we had the night before was totally different. He said, “last night it was perfect. Tonight it’s all over the place. Sometimes this stuff smells like gold, sometimes it smells like dog. But when a wine is alive, it can be like that!” He ordered a couple of others and didn’t bother to send the off bottle back, as he continued to make an effort to be as unobtrusive as possible at that restaurant. After a few minutes, Ted leaned over and spoke softly with Andrea, who then went to the other end of the table and asked Arnaud if he’d like to switch places. She took his seat so she could catch up with Géraldine, and so Ted could make proper introductions between Arnaud and Sébastien. With the two vignerons finally across from each other, Ted waited for a connection to be made, and there were a few moments of them looking elsewhere, like they had just been set up on a date. Finally, after a couple glasses of wine had warmed everyone, a serious conversation ignited between the two men, and they leaned forward and hashed something out in rapid French. Ted smirked and nodded in my direction, quite pleased with himself. I got the œuf en meurette that I had passed on the night before and had ordered at that day for lunch in Le Soufflot. It was a simpler and more traditional style, the eggs visibly poached in the bourguignonne sauce, without the tangle of wild mushrooms and frisée on top. It was less vegetal and earthy, but hearty and delicious, nonetheless. Sébastien maintained a mischievous look in his eyes at all times, mostly making jokes about himself and always at the ready for Ted to rip on him for something, playing into each attack with feigned martyrdom. He would get increasingly animated as he told a story in fast French, then would start to hunch down and get quiet, cover his mouth in a stage whisper, then pop up with a punchline that set everyone to laughing. It was yet another time when I found myself laughing at one of the characters in Ted’s world, even though I only understood every other word. He was bleary-eyed from sleeping only two hours the night before, after tending to the frost-fighting fires. He knew he would probably be doing it again that night and had showed up to dinner anyway, cracking everybody up with his antics. But underneath all the joviality, the tension of the threat to his premier crus, and to everyone throughout the region, was palpable. Arnaud broke away from conversation with Sébastien to chat with me a bit. He has a mop of straight salt and pepper hair with bangs that constantly fall into his eyes, a boyish face with matching scruff and a polite and humble affect. He told me how he had met Ted in 2010, at a time when everyone held a negative opinion of wines from Brézé. But, he said, for some reason when Ted tried them, he saw something, their true potential. Arnaud never thought he’d be making the wines he’s making now, but Ted seemed to know he would, he had believed in him completely, and now his business has taken off. As of April, 2017, he had forty organic parcels and twenty-five traditional. Back when he first met Ted he had forty traditional and eight organic, and is continuing to switch everything over to organic farming. Things are going so well that he has fifteen employees and spends less time in the vineyards than he'd like. The subject of frost came up and when I asked how he dealt with it, he offered another surprising answer: he blows the cold air away with giant fans. When I asked if it worked, he shrugged and said, “it’s hard to tell.” After dinner broke up and we all ventured outside, nobody wanted to spend another moment in the cold, and the temperature was dropping fast, which clearly didn’t bode well for any of the makers. So we quickly said our goodbyes and see you soons, and jumped into our cars as fast as possible. Ted, Andrea and I made our way back on the darkest of country roads and crashed hard in the funny little modern townhouse with the heater that didn’t work nearly well enough for my liking.
Brézé & Bizay His Way Photo and interview by Ted Vance Spring 2021 How did an Oregon native like you end up in France? I moved to France in 2007 after I finished up my studies in Oregon. I double majored in French. I wanted to leave the US for a period of time, looking for adventure, and Europe offered so much of what I wanted. And I met a French woman whom I was married to until a few years ago. How did you find your way to Romain Guiberteau? I lived in Paris for several years and finally moved to Saumur in 2012 to work as Romain’s apprentice. Before that I was working in retail sales in Paris with Joshua Adler, who moved on to start Paris Wine Company. He and I were selling Romain’s wines in the store next to the Louvre. Romain’s wines were some of my favorites in the shop. Once I started tasting through more Saumur wines, I quickly became fixated on the region as a whole: the vibrancy, the electricity. These were the wines that really spoke to me—almost on a spiritual level; but that’s another subject… How have you seen Romain grow over the years? Maybe the most obvious thing is that he’s mellowed out—I guess that’s the most honest answer. He’s also become more in tune with his different vineyard sites. He has the same intensity as his wines and these days they’ve found a greater balance and harmony. I can’t explain why, but perhaps it’s the same for his personal life. He’s been more in tune with his surroundings, like the vineyards and the perspectives of others. He’s truly an altruistic person. He loves giving things. That may even drive his wines: he wants to give people the best he can give in his wines. How much of a part has Romain played in your company’s development? He’s helped me a lot, especially with the market for my wines and his wisdom on what to do. I feel especially lucky in that I’m able to benefit from both his mistakes and his successes. What other wine regions or vignerons have influence on your wine style? Of course, I love Burgundy. I love Pinot Noir. I think specific varieties on certain terroirs are just transcendent. I think probably Fred Mugnier’s are the first ones that pop into my mind. They are benchmark wines for me because they have this extremely fine touch, an ethereal side—maybe even a heavenly side to them. This is the kind of wine that I want to achieve. There’s something in his wines I find both rooted in its minerality and structure and also lifted, high up, where a polarity exists between the elements. This is what I want to try to achieve with my wines. As far as other favorite regions, Muscadet is one of the top for me in the Loire. Jura white and red inspire me too. I’m also totally digging wines from Languedoc. Riesling. Gruner Veltiliner. I’m not so knowledgeable about Spain or Italy, but the Albariño wines Manuel Moldes brought for us on your trip together to Saumur were a real surprise in how good they were. Farming principals? Yves Herody method. Yves wanted to help farmers get back fertility in the soils while at the same time rebuild the soil structure, which are two things that don’t come together for a lot of people. The idea is that we need to introduce fresh organic fertilizer into the vineyards every year: cow manure, cover crops like fava bean, rye, clover, mustard, etc—things that capture nitrogen and put it into the soil. The plants are later tilled into the soil during the winter along with the composted manure. What it's doing is replenishing the soil microbes and organic matter so that the different soil horizons interact better together. It’s a close relative to biodynamic methods of soil preparation. I’ve been doing this since 2018. Romain’s wines have commonly shown more reductive elements compared to wines from other growers on Brézé. What do you attribute this to? I think that residual SO2 in the vineyards is not the ultimate cause. But after pressing we keep a lot of the heavy lees, which is really rich in nitrogen that the yeast needs. Already this makes for more reductive elements. We don’t give the whites any air during fermentation to resolve some of these characteristics. If you compared Romain’s white wines with Arnaud Lambert’s, one of the biggest differences is that Romain works with more lees. How has the climate changed since you began with Romain in 2012? The climate has been whacky ever since I’ve been here. This year (2021) seems to be a later year. Things are changing. It’s noticeable. It's erratic and harder to predict. These days the forecasts are becoming less correct with patterns. It’s tricky because we can’t plan perfectly, but we collect a lot of information from many different sources to make our decisions. What adjustments have happened strictly by the influence of climate change? We used to deleaf more but have stopped that almost entirely because the summers are like 100 degrees now. In 2019, for example, we had a severe drought and everything shriveled up. We’re also considering more grass in the vineyards, to let it go until its past its growth cycle, then roll over it with a type of pincher that creates a kind of mulch that keeps the soils cooler and more humid. Picking dates are certainly earlier. Acidity and pH are changing too, but in the wrong directions. How is your style of wine different from Romain’s on Cabernet Franc? The vinifications are similar to Romain’s, but I’m shortening my time on the skins. My Saumur red is only four days on skins while Romain does six or seven. I don’t work with press juice, but only free-run juice. Romain works with selective-press juice. The wine is aged in stainless steel, but I’m moving toward cement next year to work against the reduction. My first addition of 20ppm of sulfites is made when the grapes first come in. The second is about 10ppm after malolactic. Neither Romain or I are interested in having brettanomyces around so we calculate to have the right amount of free sulfur to keep that out of the mix. I would say that I have a lighter, more ethereal style but with the same ripeness as Romain’s, and there’s definitely less tannin on my reds. My new cru red, La Ripaille, is seven to eight days on skins and in barrel for a year. There’s about 20% new oak and the rest is a spice rack of older barrels. And Chenin Blanc? My Saumur appellation wine is aged on its fine lees for six months, then it’s filtered and bottled. Les Chapaudaises is twelve months in barrel, followed by a few months in tank. The Brézé bottling was originally like Chapaudaises, but because the grapes come from old vines I think I should’ve aged it longer—maybe two years, instead of one year in wood, plus six months in tank. For the foreseeable future Brézé will be in élevage for two years before bottling. All the whites are filtered because they all have malic acid, and malolactic fermentations are rare, if they ever take place. Regarding the vinification, I use less lees than Romain and have a tighter racking after the pressing. I love reduction in wines but I feel like it’s not necessarily the style I want. I think it can take away from the purity of Chenin Blanc and its ability to transmit its terroirs. I respect and understand that, but I feel that it puts too much of the person’s influence into the wine. The Brézé bottling has 30% new oak, but with a light toast. Les Chapaudaises has 20% new oak, and the others have no new oak. What is your idea of the perfect soil composition for Chenin and Cab? Limestone. Romain’s grandfather had the basic principle of a topsoil of one meter or deeper and you plant Cab Franc, because the roots need bigger systems. It doesn’t like to suffer and it also needs a lot of nutrients. By contrast, too much topsoil with Chenin makes the vine too vigorous and it will vegetatively grow too much with a consequence of less energy spent on the grapes. Is there a perfect soil composition for the type of wines you like? I love the mix of clay, loam and limestone together. The clay gives a certain structure and the loam gives a certain sweetness (without residual sugar) and the limestone gives it the grip, like sucking on a rock. I think the best expression of Cab happens on sandy clay soils over limestone. Sand gives the light powdery texture; the clay gives the structure more depth. Limestone gives textural finesse and influences the fineness of the tannins on the finish. I find that limestone as a whole draws the finish on a wine to something longer and more complete. Can you explain each of your vineyard sites? All of my vineyards on Brézé face south/southwest. Les Chapaudaises, which is in the commune of Bizay, faces north/northeast and is only a couple of kilometers away from Brézé. Les Chapaudaises is next to Romain’s Clos de Guichaux vineyard. It’s planted on about 40-50cm of clayey loam with a lot of sand on tuffeau limestone bedrock. The wine is more “vertical” with more of a straight-razor-edge profile by comparison to the Brézé wine. The vines were planted sixteen years ago and have been organically farmed since 2010. The Brézé comes from old vines on clayey loam on limestone bedrock. It has a sort of thicker structure and gives the wine a more austere character with a more “horizontal” profile. The vines are seventy years old and began organic conversion a few years ago. The Saumur rouge comes from five-year-old vines on the Brézé hill. Its topsoil is sandy loam over limestone, a combination that gives a lighter texture and touch on the tannins. The plot is a little over half a hectare in size on the site known as “La Ripaille.” This wine is different from the others in that I intended to make a quaffable, easy-drinking and fruit-forward wine. My vision of Cabernet Franc has been evolving for several years. What I once saw as a rustic, terrestrial grape variety, I now see as having the potential of making something brighter, more fruit-forward, and much more fun to drink when it’s young. La Ripaille has seventy-year-old vines on sandy loam, or clayey loam—depending on the section—but all over limestone. What are people planting when they have the opportunity to replant? People are planting more Chenin now instead of Cab. The global market demand and need for Chenin has grown a lot, and there is already a lot of Cab grown inside of the Saumur-Champigny appellation. Brézé is outside of the appellation and still has a lot of Chenin Blanc grown on the hill. People focused on red much more in the past, but this is flipping. Can you talk a little bit about the vine material planted in the region? I’ve talked a lot with Arnaud Lambert and he’s shed a lot of light on the fact that much of the younger vines are planted to productive varieties rather than quality focused ones. What are your thoughts about this? We don’t talk enough about vine materials, but I think this is an important and necessary subject. A lot of people talk a lot about minerality but without talking much about the rootstock and vine material. Why is this important? People think that old vines simply produce more mineral wines or wines with more depth. I don’t think that’s the case because you could have the SO4 rootstock that gives big, juicy grapes, but not concentrated flavors and textures. Then you could have a limestone resistant selection massale rootstock called Riparia Gloire, which gives tiny, concentrated clusters where even the young vines are giving amazingly pure expressions with great distinction of the terroir and vintage. I don’t think people are talking enough about the importance of it from a genetic vantage point for the right rootstocks either. The rootstock is a filter between the soil and the grape. What is your perception of how the wines taste when grown on contrasting soils, like clay, sand, rock? I think that a lot of it depends on how the winemaker makes the wines. I like to think the lighter the soil, the lighter the wine is on the palate. The rockier or denser the soil is, the same can be said for the wine. I feel the world has an idea of malolactic fermentation as being very specific in its influence on Chardonnay, but my feeling is that it’s not quite the same with other white varieties. How does it influence the taste on Chenin? ML is hard for us to attain because of the low pH levels. Bacteria just don’t like that environment. At Romain’s cellar we’ve only had it twice by accident. However, in my opinion it rounds out the palate and you lose edge—it dulls the razor. There’s a roundness and sweetness with ML in Chenin. I feel that the intense acidity [without a malolactic fermentation] melds together over time. When Chenin is young, the acidity stretches it like a rubber band, but over time the tension eases. When you use the word minerality, what does that mean to you? How is it perceived? Aromas? Mouthfeel? A combination? This is a can of worms. It’s a huge debate. I think there is a misconception of minerality. Is it even something we can define? I don’t think we will find exacting definitions of this. I try to avoid using minerality as a descriptor, but it’s hard to find other words. But I think when it comes to Chenin from Brézé, I see it as a sort of flinty, reductive smokiness. I think in the mouthfeel there’s a depth that draws the wine out. It seems to give a certain verticality to the wine. It also lingers on the front part of the palate, and it opens up my appetite. I think this is why they are fun to pair with many different types of food. There’s a saltiness to the wine and I think this makes it work exceptionally well with food because many people like salty food. We all know that salt enhances taste and I think minerality does the same. Last one. What is your feeling about reduction and/or acidity as an interplay within the concept of “minerality”? For me, reduction does enhance the perception of minerality, but it also can confuse the palate and aromas. Sometimes that is intentional by the winemaker, but sometimes it’s not. I think it’s all a question of balance. I feel I’ve grown a lot and am still growing in my understanding of minerality. Sometimes when I taste Olivier Lamy’s Saint-Aubin wines, (a benchmark white wine producer for me) there’s a richness to the body, some flesh, a backbone, a hold or grip in the wine like: Wow! It can give me goosebumps. One question I struggle with as a winemaker is, “What’s the fine balance of minerality? Can it be too intense and dominate the wine?” When I made my 2015s, my first vintage, they were like lemon juice. But when I open a bottle now that acidity is finally integrated into the wine. So I ask myself the question of whether I am making a wine for now, or do I want to make something that will open up later in its life and integrate that intense acidity and find harmony? What’s the right balance between all those elements that will get it right for the wines I’m making?
Prádio vineyard in Ribeira Sacra It seems that just about everyone I know who didn’t get Covid prior to the recent holiday season has done so since, but somehow my wife and I have successfully evaded it despite an extensive pre-holiday tour around California to say hello to as many of our friends and customers (many of whom were also very good friends, along with some I hope will be falling into that category). We again wish all of you the best of luck with your health from our homebase of Portugal. Keep drinking good wine! I think it helps… We have a lot to talk about this month, so let’s dive in! New Arrivals Spain Fazenda Prádio, Ribeira Sacra First on our list of arriving producers is the new darling of Wine Advocate critic Luis Gutierrez: Fazenda Prádio, from Ribera Sacra, run by former professional Spanish fútboler, Xabi Soeanes. We did a very quiet opening with his top red wine from 2018, Pacio, but with only 20 cases to spread around it was hard to justify a big promotion; we’ve been waiting for the 2019s to arrive, because we’re getting a lot more of them and we’re really excited about it! We’ll start with a snapshot of what’s done in the cellar because it’s the same for all the reds, and it’s very straightforward. Fermentations are natural and take place in granite lagars (rock vats) with varying capacities for about seven to ten days. Most of the barrels used for aging are 500L, old French oak and the élevage usually runs about eight months, simple production methods that showcase this architecturally terraced granite and schist terroir that overlooks the Río Miño. The first wine in the range is made of Mencía, the most famous grape in Ribeira Sacra. It’s this grape’s approachable nature that makes it broadly appealing and Prádio’s rendition has a great deal more layering and complexity than the typical Mencía due to its very shallow topsoil composed entirely of the granite and schist just centimeters below the surface. Prádio has just a few hectares and they’re shooting for the highest quality with this wine, which makes its modest price quite a deal. Right now they only have nine hundred vines of Merenzao, which produces a very sensual, aromatic wine with a fine mouthfeel of good natural acidity and little in the way of tannins. In France’s Jura, Merenzao is known as Trousseau. Elsewhere in Northwest Iberia it seems to have a hundred synonyms and turns up in many unexpected places. This wine is delicious and perhaps the most aromatic of the range. The only challenge is that my wife is so fond of it, which makes it hard to keep around the house when they produce so little of it. In the Jura, this grape is grown mostly on limestone terroirs which bring a broad palate feel and roundness compared to the finely etched lines of striking mineral textures imposed by these acidic soil terroirs. Once you taste it you’ll agree that the world would be a better and kinder place if everyone drank more Merenzao. Another fabulous grape that is seemingly only found in Northwest Iberia is one of my latest obsessions, Brancellao. Xabi has three thousand vines but this variety produces a much smaller yield than most, perhaps due to its open cluster shape and wider node spacing on the shoots. Its skin color is very pale and the wines take on very little color and tannin. Its winning attributes are its fresh acidity and beguiling-but-delicate aromas of fresh red fruits and soft spice notes. Xabi believes that this is one of the most important grapes for the area, and I totally agree. One of Galicia’s most untamed and perhaps most promising red varieties (in my opinion) is Caíño Longo. Prádio’s version of the variety combines all the elements of this truly great grape: good structure with its exuberant acidity and medium tannins, a wide range of aromatic and palate complexities, and that sort of inexplicable nobility and extra aromatic and palate dimensions shared by the greatest wine grapes of the world. The challenge for each grower is to break Caíño Longo’s acidity/phenolic ripeness code. The acidity can be monstrous if not picked perfectly, and if picked a little late, much of its high-toned red fruit and floral characteristics can quickly go to a more rustic side—a true asset when in balance with other fresher characteristics. Xabi believes that his Pacio Tinto, a calculated blend of all the red grapes, is the most complete wine in the range, and I might agree. While they have some single-varietal wines, his strong belief (shared by almost every winegrower in Ribeira Sacra) is that the sum of multiple parts make a better wine than single varietal bottlings. This is also a regional historical perspective, and it is due to the variability of the indigenous grapes in Galicia that seem to be exceedingly influenced by each season and furthermore by the great diversity of bedrock and soil types, aspects, altitudes, etc, of each individual vineyard. When one grape on the farm struggles, there are others that thrive. This is surely part of the reason the grapes of Galicia (and in much of Portugal) are so commonly blended. Indeed, they are fascinating on their own, but when blended together the dimensions are perhaps more subtle while the entire breadth of the wine is magnified. Pacio has it all and nails all the facets of palate and aroma. If you have each of the single-varietal wines before drinking this one, you will see how they harmonize together. New Arrivals France Arriving this month are wines from regions and producers that everybody wants. We can never seem to get enough to keep up with demand in these categories without momentary holes in continuity along the way. And while we usually have very solid allocations from each of these producers, don’t wait to get ahead of the game on these because they tend to disappear relatively quickly. Maxime Ponson, the mind behind Champagne Ponson Pascal Ponson, Champagne There was such a massive shortage of Champagne over the holidays! I was in California for a visit and you couldn’t even find the usually ubiquitous Veuve-Clicquot Yellow Label, even at Ralphs! (Not that any of us were looking to buy that…) But it wasn’t because Champagne’s stocks have run dry; it’s because those darn freight delays just won’t go away. But we cut a deal with the marvelous and young Maxime Ponson to bring in a massive shipment that was dispatched in August in hopes that it would make it to California for the holidays. Yes, you read that right: we ordered it in August, thinking that was enough time to receive it before Thanksgiving… It didn’t end up arriving, but it’s doing so now! The new arrival of Maxime Ponson’s Extra Brut “Premier Cru” Champagne (dosage 7g/L) comes from his family’s organically farmed vineyards in La Petite Montagne, a subregion of Champagne’s Montagne de Reims, located west of Reims, the region’s capital. La Petite Montagne is home to some regional luminaries and top talents, like Prévost, Brochet, Savart, and Egly-Ouriet. They tend to seven different communes and only on premier cru (1er Cru) sites where they have seventy parcels that make up 13.5 hectares, the oldest of which being seventy years old and the youngest just recently planted. The bedrock here is chalk which Maxime says is softer than the chalk found further south on the Côte des Blancs because it’s more of a tuffeau, an extremely porous, sand-rich, calcium carbonate rock, similar to what is found in Saumur and other wine regions of the middle Loire Valley. The wine is a blend of 70% Pinot Meunier and the rest equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Best to get on the train soon because the shipping delays continue… François Crochet in "Le Petit Chemarin" François Crochet, Sancerre Another wine that has been in very short supply due to freight challenges and is always in a high demand is Sancerre. François Crochet’s 2019 single cru whites are finally arriving, and despite the overall riper character of the vintage (a perfect year for those of you who like a little less green in your Sauvignon Blanc), we can always count on François to be the one who still finds the freshness with his very early picking—something he’s put into practice since he took over from his father. Crochet's "Les Exils" vineyard composed entirely of silex From most elegant to most powerful of Crochet’s range, we start with Le Petit Chemarin. This wine has quickly moved to the top of the range for me based solely on its bright mineral characteristics and elevated aromas—a profile that has yet to be exhausted within my general view of wine. It’s substantial but flies high and always maintains a dainty but ornate frame. Next is Le Chêne Marchands, the flagship of the winery and the grandest cru in Bué, Crochet’s hometown. My challenge with this wine is that it’s always at the top of the range and sometimes I want his other wines to finally pull ahead of it, the way it’s fun to sometimes see an underdog beat the champion. Le Chêne Marchands is perhaps the most well-rounded in the range and has big mineral characteristics, medium-to-full structure and an endless well of fine nuances and broad complexities. Le Grand Chemarin is often marked with more stone fruits along with sweeter citrus notes than the others in the range. It has a more expansive body and bigger shoulders than many of the rockier limestone sites, like Le Petit Chemarin and Le Chêne Marchands. It’s perhaps equally as full as the next wine, but maybe with more fruitiness. It might share the title of most powerful in the range limestone terroirs with Les Amoureuses, but in a denser and stonier way. Les Exils is the outsider in François’ range of Sancerre single-site wines. It’s grown on silex (flint, chert) on a more northerly facing slope, while the others are all on variations of limestone, with more sun exposure. Les Exils is perhaps the most minerally concentrated of all, with mineral impressions that are heavy and dominant in the overall profile; perhaps flintier than the others (a seemingly natural characteristic influenced by its soils) and with less fruit presence and a grittier mineral texture than what the limestone vineyards impart to their wines. Les Exils is always a favorite because it’s a bit of a marvel of minerality in itself, especially when tasted with the rest of François’ exciting range. Les Amoureuses is perhaps the most upfront and powerfully expressive wine in the range. It has the biggest shoulders of all, and this is most likely due to its numerous clay-rich topsoil and limestone bedrock parcels. Each of its dimensions are strong and seem to tuck any subtleties further into the wine. It’s a perfect Sancerre for four or more people who want to break the ice at lunch or dinner with a nice refreshing glass that never stutters after the cork is pulled. The Chablis premier cru vineyard, Fourchaume Christophe et Fils, Chablis Sebastien Christophe’s 2019 premier crus are finally docking. We thought we’d get them a lot faster after a small batch arrived some months ago, but we decided to hold them to wait for the rest in order to make a proper offer. Sebastien’s Fourchaume vines planted by his uncle in 1981 are located in Côte de Fontenay, a lieu-dit situated on a perfect south face toward the bottom of the hill and next to the property’s dirt road at about 120-130 meters in altitude. This is by far the most muscular premier cru in the range, with an abundance of classic and complex Chablis characteristics. Montée de Tonnerre is directly ahead with Mont de Milieu on the next hill over Located south of the grand crus and the noblest of premier crus, Montée de Tonnerre, is Mont de Milieu, one of the most versatile premier crus in Chablis. Although it’s not much talked about, on that side of the river the slopes clearly have a tremendous amount of the Portlandian limestone that have made their way down the hills and are set in place by the sticky marne (calcium-rich clay) on Kimmeridgian marl bedrock. These soil elements and the south-to-southwest aspects on this side of the Serein River often have greater palate weight and roundness, and fewer intense mineral components than many of those across the river on the left bank, depending on each vineyard. Mont de Milieu has a great range of characteristics that put it in the stylistic center between the right and left bank. Finesse is its main game, but it has plenty of thrust that drives home its complex range of subtleties. Montée de Tonnerre is the flagship wine of Sebastien’s range (the grand crus, Blanchots and Preuses, are on their way soon as well), partly because it’s the most famous premier cru in Chablis, and for good reason. It demonstrates class and balance in every dimension from the acidity, fruit, mineral, seriousness, and pleasure. Sebastien’s parcel is located in the lieu-dit Côte de Bréchains, within the Fyé Valley. Its western aspect and deep marne mixed with Portlandian scree and Kimmeridgian marlstones contribute to its broad range of complexity and appeal. It shares nearly the same south-southwest aspect as most of the grand crus and largely the same soil structure as Les Clos; however, it’s topsoil is not as deep above the bedrock as in Les Clos, though it’s still deeper in most parts than the closest premier cru, Mont de Milieu. (Keep in mind we’re speaking in terms of mere centimeters in difference vis-a-vis topsoil depth.) While this could be mistaken for a photo of U2, it's Arnaud Lambert (left), Romain Guiberteau, Peter Veyder-Malberg (Austrian luminary with the glasses), and Brendan Stater-West (far right) Arnaud Lambert, Saumur Everybody wants Arnaud Lambert’s wines now, but there was a time not too long ago when no one had heard of him, when Brézé was just an obscure name on bottles produced by Clos Rougeard, which were readily available and collecting dust in many wine shops prior to around 2012. Arnaud and I talk a lot about wine and life. Normally I spend two to four days with him each year in Saumur—sometimes twice a year—and we meet up elsewhere as well. Arnaud is one of our company’s cornerstones. It could even be said that he is our company’s most O.G. producer. Our first contact was in 2010 when we first started The Source, soon after we tasted a few of his wines that he had shipped to our friend’s house in Provence. It was my first “sourcing” trip before I’d purchased a single bottle of wine to import, and I was there with the well-known, former sommelier Tony Cha. I went to France on that first trip with an empty portfolio and came home with thirteen, and Lambert was one of them. I would’ve never guessed that my interest in finding a “clean” Cabernet Franc to import from the Saumur area would lead me to the relatively unknown hill of Brézé and to what seems like the beginning of the redefinition of modern-day, dry Chenin Blanc. Clos Rougeard had their “Brézé” white but it was very rare (and hard as a nail in its youth…), and the rest of the hill had been almost lost to history. There is so much to tell about this chronology, but Arnaud’s entrance into our California market predated Guiberteau by almost two years. Somehow Arnaud and The Source have been on the same trajectory since our first meeting and we frequently talk about those times. My most vivid memory was of us standing in Clos de la Rue on a very cold day, when for the first time he told me the story of Brézé and the historical crus to which he’d been handed the keys. It was at that moment that I knew I did the right thing by leaving wine production (or at least delaying it for a couple of decades) to become a wine importer. I was so excited by the story that I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to fly home immediately and tell everyone about Brézé’s history, and I did. Of course, it took a few years before we jumped from Arnaud’s basic Saumur white and red into the single-cru wines, starting with the 2012 Clos David and 2012 Clos de la Rue. By the time those cru wines arrived, Guiberteau had already made his mark in the States, I believe his biggest initial splash was in California. And prior to Romain lighting our world on fire with his 2009 Clos des Carmes and 2010 Brézé, no one really gave Saumur white wines much attention; oh, how quickly things can change… On this container we will finally have our restock of Lambert’s Cremant Rosé and Cremant Blanc. Make sure to lock in what you need because while we have a good chunk to start, it gets dispersed very quickly. The same could be said for the arrival of his entry-level reds, 2020 Saumur-Brézé “Clos Mazurique” (no, Saumur-Brézé is not an official appellation, but it has a nice ring to it, no?) and the 2020 Saumur-Champigny “Les Terres Rouges”. On the Chenin Blanc front (always an exciting one!), we have some of our “exclusive” bottlings arriving. These are the result of many discussions I’ve had with Arnaud about exploring special plots inside his vineyards to see if there is a notable difference in quality. The deal was that we would taste the wines together each year and decide if they should be bottled or blended into other wines. In any case, I committed to the purchase of these fun and adventurous experiments and now we have four different small production bottlings: Montsoreau, Bonne Nouvelle, Brézé, and a Clos du Midi aged in old French oak casks and bottled in magnum. Two of those special bottlings have arrived. 2018 Saumur-Brézé “Bonne Nouvelle” and the 2020 Saumur-Brézé Clos du Midi “Special Bottling”, both of which only have two barrels in production—roughly 40 cases of each wine made in total. Our challenge with this bottling of Clos du Midi is that it’s normally bottled in magnums to differentiate it from the normal bottling, but this year he put it in 750mls and put the same label on it, which makes things a little complicated… It comes from further up on the hill inside the Clos du Midi where Arnaud says this section generates more power in its wines. The normal bottling is aged in stainless steel for eight months while this version is raised in neutral barrels for eight months and bottled and stored for six months before release; the difference is striking. The regular Clos du Midi is a fabulous wine with its straight lines, gorgeous mineral nose and easy accessibility, but this version of Clos du Midi has more thrust, slightly softer edges and a deeper core strength. Clos David dirt, a sandy mix of tuffeau limestone and tiny shell fragments 2019 Saumur-Brézé Clos David is arriving and that should prove to be another knockout for this vineyard. There is also a small reload of the fabulous 2016 Saumur-Brézé Clos de la Rue, which sold out pretty quickly once it was put on the market. Bruno Clair, Burgundy The 2017 Bruno Clair wines are finally arriving after their two-year delay. How fun it is to receive wines from this fabulous estate and this wonderfully fun vintage! It’s good timing for everyone who’s maintained their allocations over the years because the press finally pushed Clair into the upper tier in the recent 2017 vintage blind tasting. “Back to Burgfest: 2017 Reds – Blind” written by Vinous’ Neal Martin, posted on January 18th, and in it, Clair seems to have really stood out among many important producers (around 250 different wines tasted over five days), including the likes of Jean-Marie Fourrier and Armand Rousseau. A happy place: Estournelles St.-Jacques and Lavaux St.-Jacques (left of the long wall), Clos St.-Jacques in the center, and Les Cazetiers on the other side of Clos St.-Jacques. Clair’s Clos St.-Jacques received 97 points (and according to Martin, was the top between the five producers—for the second year in a row—who have parcels from this very special vineyard), Bonnes Mares 96 points, and Chambertin Clos-de-Bèze 98 points. Not a bad haul for a blind tasting! While blind tasting has its merits, for me it’s not an end-all be-all judgment. But what can be ascertained from this kind of tasting at this moment is that the wines are showing great now—not surprising for this vintage and not surprising for Clair either: we’ve been beating his drum for years. Most of it has already been allocated, but if you feel you missed the boat, please let us know. We’ll do our best to find some strays. Simon Bize Our minuscule quantity of 2018 Simon Bize wines is also arriving. These wines are in great shortage for us and will be allocated to those who have a history of following them. Bize did very well in 2018, a vintage that matches this winery’s historical style under the hand and mind of the late Patrick Bize, where structure leads in the wine’s youth and builds to greater complexity and a drinking window that will likely be a few years down the road when compared to their more red-fruited 2017s. I love this domaine and I love the wines every year for the spirit they contain. The versatility of the premier crus of Savigny-les-Beaune makes this appellation one of my favorites and I know no better producer than Simon Bize. Many of Bize's great premier crus are in this photo, including (from right to left, generally) Aux Vergelesses, Les Fournaux, Les Talmettes, Aux Grands Liards (not a 1er Cru), Aux Guettes, and Les Serpentières. Far in the background, on the top of the hill toward the left center, are the vineyards for Bize's Les Perrières Bourgogne wines.
Süditrol’s St. Magdelena vines shot from Fliederhof winery, May 2022 May, Europe’s new summer month… As we descend upon Germany via train from Milan through the Alps, our group of four are all wounded and bloated from a massive intake of beef tartar, vitello tonnato, agnolotti, ravioli, gnocchi, and a near overdose of Nebbiolo (if that’s possible… well, maybe it is with the tannins of young ones…). We are in Germany for a day and then I’m off to Iberia for two more weeks of visits with another group of our staff who are joining me there as the others head home. I packed light for this forty-day bender, as sparingly as I ever have for a journey of over a month: four pairs of pants, two sweaters and a long jacket have taken up precious space in my bags since I left Prague at the end of April. It’s strangely hot this year and especially dry too. Climate change is really starting to weigh heavily over here and everyone’s concerns are more heightened than ever, despite 2021’s colder year in many locations, with great losses in some areas due to mildew pressure. In the past, climate change was a talking point in the midst of each vintage’s woes, but today, perhaps elevated by the post-pandemic shutdown period (hopefully post!), Ukrainian invasion and inflation ridiculousness, the mood is heavier than ever, especially after so many years of wackiness with the twisting of seasons. In many parts of Northern Italy it has only rained three times since November and what has arrived didn’t deliver enough. We just left Barolo and Barbaresco and many of the Nebbiolo vines were already flowering in those areas and their surroundings, around May 20th, which means a harvest will likely be in early September. There isn’t anything to do except hope for some relief, but it’s already quite late to slow things down enough to extend the season. I started the trip with ten days in Austria and the Czech Republic accompanied by my wife, Andrea, where we found the best Napolitana pizza I’ve had outside of Campania, at Pizza Nuova (which has a fabulous Italian wine list too), and a great wine bar, Bokovka, both owned by the same clever company. When Andrea left, JD, our Los Angeles sales rep, arrived. After a great visit with our Austrian team—all highlights, honestly, between Tegernseerhof’s 2019s, Veyder-Malberg’s 2021s, Malat’s 2019s and 2021s, Weszeli’s 2017s, and Birgit Braunstein and her cool range of progressive and well-made, biodynamic natural wines—he and I jumped down to Milan to grab Victoria, my sister and Office Manager, and Tyler, an Aussie expatriate who represents us in San Diego and Orange County. We all have serious farmer tans now just in time for the real summer months and big setbacks on our beach bellies. There is far too much to say about my trip here, and I wish I had time to share it all. What I can say is that I am very proud of the producers we represent in Austria and Northern Italy. Perhaps the biggest surprise for our team was the quality of wines coming from our four producers in Monferrato: Crotin keeps nailing it with inexpensive but serious wines and some new bottlings, too; Spertino is becoming a problem because the international demand for this true vinous artist is putting a pinch on our allocations; La Casaccia, a new producer for us, was probably the most unexpected knockout visit for our group with their masterfully crafted range of Barbera, Grignolino and Freisa (the latter is simply inconceivably delicious, perfumed, and subtle but generous as any Freisa I’ve ever had); and Sette, a new winery working biodynamically that lived up to my hype for my staff with their head-turning wines from Nizza. Alto Piemonte and Langhe also had a spectacular showing with the most notable highlights being Monti Perini’s yet-to-be-bottled 2017, 2018 and 2019 Bramaterra wines, Davide Carlone’s upcoming 2020 entry-level wines all grown in Boca, Dave Fletcher’s 2019 four Barbaresco bottlings that were simply a stunning breakthrough for him (an already very good, young winegrower) and Poderi Colla’s 2019 Barbaresco Roncaglie, a true masterpiece and unquestionably the top Barbaresco I’ve had from them. There’s so much more to add, but we’ll get there another day because now we’re off to Spain and Portugal. In next month’s Newsletter, I’ll give the play-by-play and note the highlights from my final two-week leg of the journey. New Producers In June we have a real boatload of wine coming in (unapologetic pun intended). It’s hard to know where to start because there are so many good things arriving. All the new wines this month are from France, except a lone Spanish wine made from one of our new French producers who plays by his own rules, Imanol Garay. Also arriving in the warehouse are new wines from Arnaud Lambert, Thierry Richoux, David Moreau’s 2019s, finally the 2020 Dutraive wines, Francois Crochet’s 2021 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette, Pascal Ponson “Prestige Cuvée” Champagne, and finally a reload from our lone Bordeaux producer (for the moment), Cantelaudette. Because there is so much, I’ll only highlight a few, starting with our newest additions. Aside from the two new producers we will explore today, there are over a dozen more we signed on with over the last six months or so whose wines will finally be arriving by the last quarter of the year. We have new wines coming from Chile (Itata), Saumur, Montlouis, Champagne, Bordeaux, Piemonte, Abruzzo, Douro, Setubal, Alentejo, Azores, Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, and Sicily—finally, after five years of poking around the island. We are in the middle of exciting times at The Source and we greatly appreciate the support from you who continue to work with our talented team and consider the wines from our constantly evolving portfolio. It’s because of you that we can continue to do the work we love to do. Imanol Garay, Southwest France/Northern Spain Spanish/French former engineer and barrel broker, Imanol Garay, un vigneron libre, follows no wine rules (other than some labeling requirements for his French/Spanish wine blends) and believes in terroir not only as the concept of specific site or even region but as a contiguous philosophical thread practiced in different places that may be forged into one wine. A resident of southwest France, his cellar is in Orthez, only a short drive from Spain’s Basque country. Before starting his project, he worked with French natural wine gurus Richard Leroy and Vincente Careme, among others. Some vineyards are his own, some he rents and farms, and some fruit comes from friends with the same deep respect for nature aligned with their life philosophy. He has another project in Spain’s Txakoli region with friends, Alfredo Egia (also in our portfolio) and Gile Iturri, labeled Hegan Egin; some years he makes Rioja, others Navarra, and always a lot of French wine. Cautiously walking the natural-wine line, his pursuit is of the clean yet uninhibited, void of unwanted animally smells (the mouse, the horse), and instead with wonderful character-filled and potently nuanced, high-energy wines filled with joy and authenticity, like the man himself. Imanol Garay We start with Imanol’s 2020 Clandestinus, a Pyrenean red wine from Spain’s Navarra grown on limestone bedrock with brown topsoil. CLANdeSTINUS is a play on words regarding Imanol’s family history, the Stinus clan, from (de) Alsace in former times, and a “tribute to all those who have crossed mountains, seeking a better life.” The mix is equal parts Grenache and Graciano, the latter a less well known and very promising red variety with an incredible structure led with, at times, jarring acidity when not fully ripe, but gorgeously savory with tight dark red fruit. As all of Imanol’s wines, it’s made without any additions throughout vinification, with some added after malolactic fermentation where it receives a sparse amount of sulfur prior to bottling. Élevage takes place over a ten-month period in a mix of 228-, 600- and 700-liter French oak barrels with mostly old wood and a small portion of new. Clandestinus dances on its toes around the danger of a natural wine disaster while delivering a non-stop barrage of juicy, slightly baked fruits and roasted nuts, and sweet, northern Spanish countryside rusticity—think leather, chestnuts, and cured meat. I observed this young and surprisingly voluptuous wine for days after opening it, waiting for it to succumb to exhaustion after its vigorous dance, but my wife fell under its spell and finally finished it off before I could stop her—a surprising act from someone who usually has little interest in red wines that hit 14% alcohol. Diving into Imanol’s highly sought after whites with unfortunately extremely tight limitations on quantity are his Ixilune (pronounced “itchie-loo-nay”), French whites grown in and around the Madiran and Béarn appellations, without the appellations on the labels. These are very special whites indeed, and we took whatever Imanol would allow from the two vintages available. Both are deep in reductive, minerally elements (à la Richard Leroy) and need a moment to open and express their rolling hill, limestone and alluvial terroirs. The 2018 Ixilune is composed of 70% Petit Courbu from d’Aydie, and 30% Petit Manseng from Soublecause. The élevage takes place in 225- and 500-liter barrels of young but no new French oak. Free of sulfites through its time in wood, a first and final addition was made at bottling. The 2020 Ixilune is a blend of 25% Petit Courbu and 25% Petit Manseng (both from Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh), with the difference, a rare white grape with a long tradition, Raffiat de Moncade, cultivated in and around the village of Orthez. The potentially high-yielding Raffiat de Moncade produces relatively neutral white wines, often expressing soft, white flesh fruit notes and flowers. It offers this blend with the other two higher-toned and more tense fresh grapes a gentler mouthfeel and softer aromas. The 2020 Ixilune is similarly aged in 225- and 500-liter barrels of young French oak and 10% in a small amphora. Always searching to work around sulfur, Imanol was confident enough to bottle this white without adding any. Given his successes with his no-sulfur Txakoli project, Hegan Egin, the 2020 Ixilune appears to follow in those very successful footsteps. Both wines are 14% in alcohol, but fresh, tight, minerally (alongside its beautiful reductive elements) and as mentioned, surprisingly unbreakable for days after opening. New Producer: Nicolas Pointeau (Domaine de la Sablière), Chinon Due to the severe shortage of Saumur red wines from Arnaud Lambert, Romain Guiberteau and Brendan Stater-West, I began to search for some young blood in the Loire Valley’s Cabernet Franc world, especially outside of Saumur, to add a little variety to our Cabernet Franc range. I love the wines of Saumur, but I’m also interested in finding other things throughout the rest of the Loire Valley, a region we adore. Marielle et Nicolas Pointeau I received a tip from one of our top winegrowers about the wines of Nicolas Pointeau, a young vigneron working his family’s Chinon winery organically with his wife, Marielle, in Domaine de la Sablière. Any tip from great producers is worth exploring, and a few years ago they met Nicolas at an event and pointed me in their direction—this is how “discovery” in importing works most of the time (nearly all the time), rather than knocking randomly on doors and cold-calling in other ways. A lot has happened between my introductory tastes of his wines in the summer of 2019, with the 2017 and 2018 vintages, and what is in the bottle now, with the 2020 vintage. The conversion to organic farming and a few more years of experience in the cellar, Nicolas made wines convincing enough to jump on his wagon. Pointeau’s organic Chinon vineyards on alluvial soils used for the entry-level Chinon wines Nicolas’ wines will not yet revolutionize the Cabernet Franc wine scene because they are made in a very straightforward way without much “hand in the wine.” His entire range is solid, unpretentious, and not over-thought or overplayed; they deliver tremendous value and exist squarely in the realm of lightly structured, delicious, gravelly, black earth, lovely red and dark-fruited, perfectly ripe and deliciously savory Cabernet Franc. Their vineyards in Chinon are largely on alluvial soils with some on shallow topsoils above tuffeau limestone bedrock. The alluvial soils make for wines with a little more gentleness on acidity and palate roundness without being too rich from the soil and much less solar powered than Cabernet Franc wines from further south in western France. If you are familiar with Arnaud Lambert’s range (as are most restaurant and retail buyers who work with our portfolio), think Les Terres Rouges, or Montée des Roches, both grown on Arnaud’s richer soils of the Saumur-Champigny commune, Saint-Cyr en Bourg, but maybe a little less dense given the loamier soils than the clay-rich soils of Saumur-Champigny. Even more, Nicolas’ reds represent his conviviality and hard-working nature; when I drink them, I am always reminded of him in his well-worn vigneron’s clothes, with a smile from ear to ear. The Pointeau cellar Within the range of the three Chinon reds that will land, the 2020 Chinon “Tradition” is the first in line and raised in only stainless steel tanks and comes from gravelly soil on large terraces. The wine does indeed have gravelly textures (classic for the variety), a good mix of dark and red fruits, graphite palate and nose, on a light frame. The 2020 Chinon “Tonneliers” is raised in old French oak barrels (called fûts de chêne in these parts, rather than barrique) and similarly grown on gravel soils as the “Tradition” bottling. The difference here is maybe just a slightly fuller body and rounded edges though with a similar fruit profile. The time in wood also imparts more savory notes and a slight softening of the fruit notes. The 2020 Chinon “Vieille Vignes” comes from parcels with a greater tuffeau limestone presence, further uphill from the vineyards used for the other bottlings we imported. Finer lines and a deeper core with additional mineral notes alongside the variety’s ubiquitous graphite notes, this stainless-steel-aged Cabernet Franc has great purity and depth for Nicolas’ gentle and easy style. The average age of vines for all the cuvées is around forty-five years, with the Vieille Vignes closer to eighty. All the Chinon red wines we imported from Pointeau are bottled between March and June after their vintage year. New Arrivals Richoux, Irancy We have a fabulous group of wines coming in from Thierry Richoux and his fils, Gavin and Félix. The baton is in the process of being passed from Thierry to them, which explains why some labels display their names, and others have Thierry’s. Since 2017 a few things have changed at this organically-run domaine. The boys have incorporated some new techniques, most noticeably a gentler extraction and the use of smaller barrels, where in the past they were aged exclusively for a year in stainless steel, followed by another year in large foudre between 55hl-85hl capacity. They are also experimenting with notable success with smaller total sulfur additions and holding out on the first addition until the wines are ready to be bottled. Much of these changes will be felt in the years to come more than those that arrive today. We adore the old-school style of Thierry and hope they will stay close to it, but it’s obvious that Gavin and Félix are making a few advancements instead of experimental setbacks. Félix, the youngest of Thierry and Corine Richoux’s sons We have a reload of 2017 Irancy and our first batch of 2017 Irancy “Veaupessiot”. This vintage expresses the beautiful fruit nuances of this warm vintage that ripened when the fruit was still dominated by red tones. In the 2005 vintage, Veaupessiot became Richoux’s first single-cru bottling of Irancy, and for good reason. While a good portion of Irancy sits inside the amphitheater shape that surrounds the ancient village, there are many prized sites just outside of it, or on the south-side of the south hill of the appellation. Veaupessiot is on the outside, at the southwestern end of the horseshoe-shaped appellation as it opens toward the west. The slope is moderately steep and ends near a ravine that cuts in below it, and an incline far too steep for vineyards. Other vineyards look like they could be as good, but that’s the fun and mystery of great vineyards; it’s not what’s above that determines the great sites, it’s what’s below. Richoux recognized this early on and it remains the most well-balanced single-cru wine in his range. This wine will have good moments early on but certainly has the chops to age as effortlessly as Richoux’s many wines have time and time again. The Richoux family’s wines are bulletproof and remain one of the greatest deals still to be had in all of Burgundy among top domaines. Richoux Veaupessiot parcel to the left of the road Les Cailles is Richoux’s second single-cru bottling and is more powerful and structured than Veaupessiot. It’s spicier, more mineral and with more formidable tannins, requiring extra time in bottle as well as aeration once opened to find its peak moment. When it gets there, it arrives in a big way, but we must be more patient than with Veaupessiot. 2015 Irancy “Les Cailles” will surely be the best yet put to bottle (that is released), and this year is a perfect vintage with its boosted ripeness and softer tannins; this means that it will require of you less patience to find its moment upon opening compared to the previous three releases. (The first year of Les Cailles was bottled in 2012.) The 2015 Veaupessiot is an extraordinary wine (that sold out in a flash), which means that Les Cailles will be nothing short of impressive for decades to come. It will be interesting to see Veaupessiot and Les Cailles duke it out over the years, and it would be best not miss a vintage from either of them to experience this intriguing comparison. Les Cailles is situated on the north hill of the amphitheater facing south. The vines are over seventy years old and contribute added depth. South-facing old vines of Les Cailles Arnaud Lambert, Saumur Yet another group of wines from Arnaud Lambert is arriving. We have a lot of coverage of his wines in our newsletters and on the website, so I won’t take a deep dive here. On the boat are reloads of the Crémant de Loire Blanc & Rosé and some new releases of single-cru wines. It seems we have some of our barrels marked in Arnaud’s cellar! In the Saumur Blanc department, we have the 2020 “Les Perrieres”, 2018 “Bonne Nouvelle”, 2018 “Coulee de St. Cyr”, 2018 Clos de la Rue, and the 2018 Saint-Just “Brézé”. Quantities are minuscule on some of these, so please go easy on us if we can’t fill your requests. In the red department, the new release of 2019 Saumur “Montée des Roches” and 2018 Saumur-Champigny “Clos Moleton” will arrive. Quantities on these two wines are very limited, so get ahead on those and reach out soon if you are interested. Brézé’s tuffeau limestone diversity from stark white to light orange due to a higher iron content Jean-Louis Dutraive, 2017 Dutraive, Beaujolais Finally, the 2020s from Dutraive will arrive. We opted to wait until all the wines were ready in this vintage (some fermentations ran a little later than expected) before we brought them in, which resulted in some unexpectedly lengthy delays. The 2020 vintage was relatively uneventful and without demoralizing natural elements such as frost or high mildew pressure. However, it was a warm year all around. The difference between some of the other warmer seasons of late is that the vines had a good natural yield that was only curbed by the summer heat, concentrating grapes and making for riper wines. The most positive element of the year was that the growers were able to choose when they wanted to pick, resulting in balanced fruit. Dutraive’s wines in 2020 are fresher than many of the recent years thanks to the naturally balanced crop load. The recent warm years that had early season losses to nature’s elements affected the final balance of the wines due to too much of the vine’s focus on the little quantity of fruit they produced. As usual, quantities are very limited. Dutraive’s Clos de la Grand’Cour vineyard in Fleurie Pas de L’Escalette, Languedoc Julien Zernott and Delphine Rousseau have become one of the Languedoc’s leading producers for substantive wines with higher tones and greater freshness than the typical wines from this massive area of France. During the pandemic many producers were understandably forced to seek out new markets for their wines while their traditional markets, including France, waited out the pandemic. That, in conjunction with the rest of the world taking notice, is why our allocations are more limited these days. I apologize in advance for an unusually small quantity of wines from this young (still!) and progressive duo. Escalette vineyard with walls constructed from “clapas” 2021 should be a great year for French rosé. It’s probably the coldest year since 2013 and offers a lot of freshness to the wines, especially after the long string of warm years, particularly between 2017 and 2020. Escalette’s 2021 Ze Rozé is a slightly top-heavy wine sourced from some of the better red grape parcels—no specific parcels are isolated for the rosé. Here, compared to most Provencal rosés similarly composed of Grenache, you can expect more body but on a rather tight frame due to the higher altitude, rockier limestone bedrock and topsoil, and the constant fresh winds that blow through this narrow valley. The blend this year is 65% Grenache, 20% Carignan for greater flesh and deeper fruit, 10% Cinsault for more lifted and floral aromas and 5% Syrah. The 2021 Les Petits Pas also benefited greatly from the cooler year, yielding a very fresh red. From the moment the Les Petits Pas was created, Julien and Delphine’s intention was to add a charmer in their line of wines that didn’t take itself too seriously—hence the full color pinkish red label with neon green, baby footprints. Pas de L’Escalette is nestled up into an ancient roadway that connects the Languedoc to the north by way of France’s central mountain range, the Massif Central. This is cooler wine country, far from the Mediterranean, so it’s plenty cold at night, even in summer, and this is what imparts their wines with more zippy freshness and crunchy red and dark fruits, which make it a perfect wine for warm weather. Les Petits Pas is a multi-parcel blend from organically farmed vineyards on limestone terroirs, typically a mix of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Carignan. Each of these grapes naturally carries ample freshness, magnified by a little chill, making it anything but heavy on a sunny day. It is indeed compelling for us wine geeks, but it’s more of a drink-it-don’t-think-it wine. Les Petits Pas doesn’t constantly tug at your sleeve begging to show you how good it is, it’s just good. Les Clapas Rouge, named after the limestone rock piles (clapas) found in the vineyards, is led by Syrah, which makes up 50% of the blend. The Syrah is entirely vinified in whole bunches, and Delphine says they never destem Syrah because the stems add so much complexity; they’re mixed in for the fermentation and contribute what one might expect: heightened freshness, texture, and exotic green, animal nuances. The remainder is a mix of 30% Carignan and 20% Grenache, both co-fermented with 50% whole clusters. The latter two grapes contribute more of the suppleness, but the combination of the three—all extremely noble grapes—make for a wine broad in dimension and full in flavor. After its three to four week “infusion” fermentation (which simply means no big movements for extraction) the wine is polished up over fourteen months in 50-hectoliter upright wooden tanks and a single 20-hectoliter foudre. It’s racked once in the spring and the only sulfite addition (no more than 30mg/l, or 30 parts per million of total SO2) is made just prior to the bottling, without any filtration.
There are many who make wines from their head and less that make it from their heart; Romain Guiberteau is both but definitely leads with his heart. The man is intensely driven by passion and it screams from the bottle upon opening. Like myself, the first time you taste one of his Chenin Blanc wines, it will likely send shivers down your spine. Electricity and high-frequency is the game here and you’d better be ready to get your socks blasted off when you pull the cork on one of these puppies. Romain and a group of other producers come from a very special hill named, Brézé. Brézé, an unassuming and quiet hill, is reasserting itself as one of the most relevant terroirs in all the world and the likely reason for this reemergence is because of Guiberteau’s startling (literally) and original wines. A little secret about this estate is that while everyone seems to be talking about his whites, we believe his reds to be some of the crowning jewels of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. He’s got that variety serious dialed in.
Iago Garrido may be destined to become one of Spain’s most influential winegrowers. I first encountered him and some of his wines with our friends from Cume do Avia in 2018, over lunch at O Mosteiro, by the Monasterio de San Clodio, in Galicia’s Ribeiro wine region; Iago and I were being set up, with all eyes on me. As we ate, a few white wines and a single red carried an unexpected throughline of aromas and textures unusual for the region, something Iago calls his “freaky.” I’ve come to think of it as his genius, and so has anyone who's been fortunate enough to try the wines he bottles under Fazenda Augalevada. Under the Veil In 2014, Iago buried his first amphora filled with Treixadura out in the middle of his vineyard, and after a while he became convinced that it was a mistake. But sometimes mistakes can open your mind to new possibilities you may have never otherwise imagined and can even change the course of your life. What Iago thought was an errant shot actually hit a vein of gold. Ollos de Roque (Eyes of Roque, his firstborn son), had two different versions in 2014 with the second (the supposed mistake) labeled as Número Dous (Number Two, in Galician). He sold Número Dous only to his friends and kept some bottles for himself. The wine that went to market was raised in oak barrels in his cellar and was headed in the direction he thought he was going. But his friends started to tell him how much they liked Número Dous, and Iago found the same unexpected pleasure in the wine as they did. Ultimately, he realized that it was the better of the two approaches. Flor yeast is fascinating. Those in the wine industry know about this yeast veil that can form on the surface of a wine during its cellar aging, most famously in France’s Jura and Spain’s Jerez. My first contact with some iteration of flor was back in 2000, during my first harvest season at a winery in Santa Maria. During the stirring and topping of some Chardonnay barrels toward the end of their fermentation, I pulled the stainless steel bâtonnage wand and saw that it was covered in a glycerol, yeasty, net-like film. I thought this was a flaw, so I brought it to the attention of the winemaker, who smiled and said it was probably flor yeast and that it might actually contribute to the wine’s complexity. Wines made under flor in Galicia rarely, if ever, go to market. But Iago said that some local winegrowers told him that in the past, the spring wines would often bloom with flor yeast. Back then, wines were most often drunk from the vat instead of from bottles. As the level of the vat went down and the temperature increased in the spring and summer, the flor protected the wine, and if it didn’t bloom in the vat, the wine wouldn’t last long.
Reznicek, a fabulous, new Viennese restaurant by sommelier Simon Schubert I’m writing this month’s newsletter in Vienna even though I thought about canceling this trip, as I have frequently done in the last few months due to Covid and the war next door, but I figure I can’t wait forever for the world to stabilize in every direction to feel completely comfortable traveling in this area. My wife and I decided to take a few days in Austria and the Czech Republic for her birthday before the arrival of some of my team from the States. This week is the beginning of forty consecutive days I’ll be on the road, starting in Riesling and Grüner Veltliner country, ten days in Northern Italy between Südtirol, Lombardia, and Piemonte, followed by what will surely be a stunning train ride from Milan through Switzerland and into Germany. From there, after a brief German excursion with Katharina Wechsler, the first team goes home, and I fly to Madrid to welcome three others for two weeks in Iberia. It’s going to be an intense one, but it will clear my schedule for a more relaxed summer. Last night we went to one of Vienna’s cool wine spots, Heunisch & Erben. It had been an overcast day, a little chilly but sunny, similar to when we left Portugal, though a bit drier. We settled into a tastefully remodeled modern flat with a light oak and shiny dark marble floor apartment with the classically high ceilings in a historic building in the Neubau district of Vienna. The original plan in Austria this year was to go to VieVinum, but despite how great the event is, I opted to avoid the crowds and see our Austrian growers in a more intimate setting. Ever since my first visit in 2004, I’ve searched Austria for the best wiener schnitzel and I may have finally found it. Two nights ago, at Heunisch & Erben, Katharina, our server, gave it a 9.5 out of ten, and I had to agree, only because she insisted a ten isn’t possible. It was near perfection: thin, soft veal somehow floating inside and seeming not touching its pillow of gold and brass-hued breaded crust with a superb and perfectly crafted delicate crunch. Their wine list is massive and requires a thirty-minute hunt to settle on the bottle for the night. We scoured the list of old Riesling with one of the sommeliers but he didn’t commit to pushing us in any particular direction, so we started with a series of Riesling tastes from their extensive wine-by-the-glass list and asked for a bottle of 2017 Domaine du Collier Saumur Rouge “La Ripaille” (because we knew we wanted a red for the night as well) to nurse over the next hours. During the last two years, I’ve had three different bottles of this Collier wine, two 2014s and one 2016. The La Ripaille Cabernet Franc wines I’ve had are, to me, complete in every way, and loaded with x-factor and perfect texture and palate weight. The 2017 clearly needs a few more years for the newish wood notes (not sure of the wood regimen) to meld a little further into the wine to make it a true 9.5. It was a solid 9, but I’m sure it will go up a notch with more bottle age. Everyone who will join me on this five-week journey will experience new places and meet new people that they admire through their wines. It’s a great pleasure to watch them visit places for the first time that I’ve had the fortune of visiting many times before, thanks to the great support of our customers and friends in the wine industry! Sometimes during the first visit to anywhere we are so worried about avoiding missteps that further complicate our travels that we miss the pleasure of watching others enjoy themselves too. My fondest memory guiding someone to somewhere I frequently visit was with my sister, Victoria (also our company’s Office Manager and Company MVP—yes, the second should be an official title), the first time she went to the Amalfi Coast. My wife, Andrea, and I lived on the eastern border of the area, in the port town of Salerno, a place people often just pass through without staying for more than a day or to just hop on the bus to Amalfi; Salerno is a true Southern Italian city populated mostly with Italians. Almost every sunny weekend we would catch the ferry to one of the Amalfi Coast villages, and our favorite was Cetara. Amalfi Coast fishing village, Cetara On the ferry ride we sat daydreaming while sea mist cast into the air by the boat bobbing up and down in the wake from other boats, the cool water freshening our faces under the hot sun. But anyone familiar with the area knows the better beaches, at least for relaxing, are to the east and south of Salerno in Cilento, not the pebbly and cobbly Amalfi Coast. The Cilento Coast is much flatter and has expansive and long, soft beaches made of fine sand, save the occasional razor-sharp volcanic outcroppings on the shore and scattered in the breaking waves. The water is cleaner and clearer than most of Amalfi (a place already known for its beautiful, clean water), and it’s where many Campanians go during the summer when excessive amounts of tourists make Amalfi unbearable, if it weren’t for its breathtaking beauty. One can only imagine the origins of the beauty of the Amalfi coastline adorned with limestone cliffs: surely it was the hot spot for torrid love affairs between gods. In Cilento, every beach shack restaurant surely has better food than you can find anywhere else on the beach in Europe; the Neapolitans have very high expectations when it comes to food and these places deliver, even if they’re served on paper or plastic. The place was Ravello, perhaps the most picturesque and well-kept village along the Amalfi Coast, a hilltop town about a thousand feet above the sea, celebrated in books, clean and well-groomed, and subtly posh. It’s a place that attracts the richest and the most artistic of our species for inspiration from the Mediterranean below, with its shimmering kaleidoscope of inimitable shades of blue and green, all backed by a treacherously steep, wild shrub-covered, limestone mountainside that seems to run right into the city center. It was only there that I ever witnessed someone so deeply awed by the beauty of a place that it brought them to tears. This person was Victoria, who was embarrassed by how it moved her, and this is, and will always be, one of my greatest travel memories. There won’t be anything quite as stunning as Ravello and the Amalfi Coast during my upcoming trip, but Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra and Portugal’s Douro will stimulate many other sensations: vertigo; disbelief that people would elect to work in such extreme conditions; deep contemplation about the history of conquest and religion in the region; the superiority of Roman engineering in their time and their lust for gold and how deeply they changed Europe. All this lies between our start in Austria’s Wachau and our terminus in Portugal and Spain’s Atlantic coasts. So much to see and experience, to learn and to ponder! It never gets old, only we do… Ancient gneiss from hundreds of millions of years ago, the famous bedrock (or “primary rock”) of Austria’s Wachau New Arrivals: Austria Tegernseerhof, Wachau An hour’s drive west from Vienna lies Austria’s ground zero for the country’s great Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. While I feel it’s not fair to say one region is better than another when comparing Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau, Austria’s elite spots for these grapes, Wachau certainly gets heaped with the most praise and is home to a tremendous number of great producers, including our friend Martin Mittelbach and his historic Weingut Tegernseerhof. The far eastern side of this appellation’s steeply terraced, ancient gneiss rock hillsides is where the recently organic certified Tegernseerhof has operated since 1176. While vines existed in the area for hundreds of years before the arrival of the monastic order of Tegernsee, Tegernseerhof is the oldest Wachau winery in the Loiben area. Owned and operated by the Mittelbach family for the last five generations, there are dozens of winegrowers in the area now, including two of Mittelbach’s neighbors and close family friends, the Knolls and Alzingers. Martin’s stylistic difference from his friends lies mainly in how he now organically farms and is certified (and I could see that would eventually head that direction when I first met him in 2009) and uses only stainless steel for fermentation and aging. He is also slightly stricter about excluding berries that are concentrated by good botrytis in his classic still wines from Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. Similar to the others, however, skin contact is used depending on the health of the berries: the better the health and the greener the berries, the longer the maceration before pressing. His vineyard and cellar choices leave Martin’s wines naked with a starkly clear view into the differences between the aspects, slopes, bedrock and topsoil, and genetic material from each particular vineyard site of his top wines. Always straight and intentionally slow to unfold upon opening, Martin wants his wines to evolve through time rather than erupt in the first moments. To better understand terroir with an extremely fair-priced wine, Tegernseerhof is second to none—make sure you do more than just taste them; better to drink them over some hours next to each other to let the differences truly reveal themselves. What a treat to have more 2019 vintage wines coming from Austria. Similar in overall caliber to other recent banner years, 2017, 2015 and 2013, 2019 may be considered a leader among them. Of course, each vintage has its standout characteristics, but 2019 fires on all fronts, leaving nothing ambiguous regarding its potential as well as its natural openness early on. The ripeness is full but balanced with zippy acidity and mineral nuances and loads of texture. It’s a great vintage on which to double down: one for today and another for the cellar. The Austrians are crazy about Grüner Veltliner. Why, one might ask? It’s extremely universal. It invites everyone with its mixed simplicity and convivial nature, and with the good ones, a deep but unintrusive complexity. At home, grandma, grandpa, mom and dad, and the entire extended family, and some of the country’s older kids enjoy their time together with this appealing white wine shared among everyone. Yes, Austrian teenagers drink wine (and probably more beer) with the family and in restaurants. The public drinking age in Austria is 16, and alcoholism is not a big societal problem thanks to the lack of taboo… Better to get them started on Grüner Veltliner than waste the Rieslings on them at such a young age! (Save the Riesling for the adults!) Interestingly, when asked which wine between Grüner Veltliner and Riesling may age better and even improve more, many of the winegrowers have a strong belief that Grüner Veltliner may slightly outdo Riesling in the long run. And if anybody knows, they would! Grüner Veltliner is a grape variety that doesn’t like to suffer too much stress in the vineyard, that is, benefit from the vine’s search for nutrients and water in the soil. It’s mostly planted on less extreme slopes and on deep soils, whereas Riesling takes to more precarious, spare soil, with picturesque positions that result in greater stress to the vine. Here in the Wachau and the surrounding regions, Veltliner loves to bathe in the water-retentive loess, a wind-traveled, fine-grained, and well-structured calcareous sand—well structured enough through its crystalline matrix that entire loess caves can be dug relatively deep into the earth with very little structural support and concern of collapse. Most of these loess vineyards in the Wachau are down by the river, on more east-facing terraces or in areas inside the river’s historical flood plains. The first Grüner Veltliner and Riesling in Tegernseerhof’s range are labeled Dürnstein (formerly labeled Frauenweingarten for the Veltliner, and Terrassen for the Riesling). The Dürnstein Grüner Veltliner Federspiel is grown on alluvial river sands and loess which brings bright notes of spice, honeysuckle, and white pepper to the forefront and a broader palate richness. (Federspiel is a ripeness category particular to Austria’s Wachau region, similar to a Riesling Kabinett in ripeness level but a dry wine rather than a sweet version one would typically expect with the reference to Kabinett on the label.) The mineral nose is further enhanced by notes of dried yellow and green grasses, and white radish, while the deep and glycerol back palate is characterized by Indian spices and a slight minty, lime finish. Between the Veltliners in Tegernseerhof’s range, this is the easiest and most universal for all palates. Grown in a parcel only a few dozen meters from the Danube and right at the doorsteps of the historic rock village, Dürnstein, Tegernseerhof’s Superin Grüner Veltliner Federspiel is quite different from the Dürnstein bottling. Here the Danube did some sculpting and stripping away of soil during flood periods while replacing it with new river sediments. Through this erosional process, it carved deep enough to expose the gneiss bedrock below. In other Grüner Veltliner vineyards used for Federspiel, they are often covered in a deep enough topsoil of loess and alluvial sediments with very little, if any root contact with gneiss bedrock far below. The dynamic of gneiss as a dominant feature of this vineyard creates a Federspiel Grüner Veltliner with a much more vertical, mineral, saltier, and deeply textured palate. Between the two Veltliners, this is the one for the mineral seeker while the other may be better suited for those in search of more obvious Veltliner deliciousness. The three newly released 2019 Tegernseerhof Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Crus are all located in the Loiben area. Leading with the most elegant of the three, we start with Loibenberg, a Smaragd (the Wachau’s regional name for the highest quality dry wines; think the equivalent of a dry Spätlese or Auslese-level trocken) grown on numerous parcels on perhaps the most recognizable hill in the Wachau. Unlike many other Grüner Veltliners from this hillside, similar to other Loibenberg Grüner Veltliners, Martin’s is a mix of around 2/3 loess-dominated soil in the middle and lower parts of the hill, but with the other third harvested from gneiss-dominated soils and bedrock further uphill, which may make (in theory!) his version a little more minerally than one may expect from a Smaragd Veltliner from this hill. The aromas and flavors express a beautiful collection of sweet purple fruits, Concord grape skin, violets, green melon, green candy, Meyer lemon, and kaffir lime. Tucked further in this tension-filled but open Veltliner sits a deeply rooted core of iodine, sea urchin, and marine salts. One of the most famous and exclusive vineyards in the Wachau is Ried Schütt. As far as I know, only Weingut Knoll and Tegernseerhof have labels that carry this name; both have Grüner Veltliner, but Knoll is the only one to bottle Riesling, which some say is the best Riesling in Knoll’s impressive range. This Veltliner from Mittelbach is slightly more textured and amare (in a very pleasant way!) than his Loibenberg Grüner Veltliner, with ethereal aromas of fresh sage, spice, exotic greens, and sweet lemon. On the palate, the aromatic sweetness of bay leaf stains deeply on all sides, while sweet green grasses, marine salt, and lightly purple and yellow citrus fruits round out the full but clean palate. Schütt is perhaps the most regal and firmly textured of the Veltliners from Martin, and it sits beneath Höhereck inside of a combe (known as the Mental Gorge, or Mentalgraben) where water eroded the eastern neighboring hillside of the Loibenberg vineyard just across the way. The combe floods with cold air from the Waldviertel forest behind and above the vineyards, contributing tension to balance out its deep power. An unusual look for a great cru site, it’s a relatively flat vineyard with only slight terracing below Höhereck. It’s composed primarily of hard orthogneiss bedrock and decomposed gneiss topsoil with a mixture of different sized, unsorted gneiss rocks and sand deposited by the former water flow. Replanted in 1951, Tegernseerhof’s Ried Höhereck is the Grüner Veltliner parentage of many vines in the area. A rare Grüner Veltliner planted almost exclusively on the acidic metamorphic rock, gneiss, rather than the sandy, nutrient-rich and water-retentive loess, typical for this variety with a beneficial southeast exposure inside and just popping out of a ravine with great access to mountain winds and an early summer and autumn sunset, Martin says that the most important element of Höhereck is its genetic heritage. This half-hectare (1.25 acre) vineyard has been a growing field for centuries for ancient Grüner Veltliner biotypes, thus contributing to the complexity of this wine and Martin’s entire range of Veltliners, with all new plantations made with genetic material from this hill. Höhereck produces dynamic wines that still manage to show great restraint, though this is perhaps due to its great abundance of layers that unfold once the bottle is open; it shouldn’t be drunk quickly because all the most important acts of the show take time. As charming as it is serious juice, with precise nuances of yellow and white peach, cherimoya, lemon curd, baking spice, bright green herbs eventually take center stage. It’s a lovely wine with immense depth. We have a rock star lineup (pun intended) of 2019 Tegernseerhof Rieslings grown on gneiss bedrock with slight variations of exposure and topsoil. First, we start with Martin’s rapier-like Dürnstein Riesling Federspiel (formerly labeled Terrassen). Every year this Riesling shows a gorgeous selection of green notes that dance somewhere between sweet mint, green fig, green apple skin, and sweet green melon, with razor-sharp steel and crystalline, salty mineral notes adding to its appeal. These grapes come exclusively from the first and second pickings of Riesling clusters from the gneiss terraces of some of the region’s greatest badass Riesling vineyards: Loibenberg, Steinertal and Kellerberg. The pedigree is all there, and Martin’s deft touch and desire to craft this wine into fine liquid art, making it one of the world’s greatest values for serious but delicious white wine. In the range of Martin’s Smaragd Rieslings, the Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd is the most delicate and refreshing while maintaining its Smaragd-level fullness. It comes from one of the warmest sites in the Wachau (which is still much cooler than most parts of Austria’s white wine regions) and is often the first to be picked within Tegernseerhof’s Smaragd Rieslings. The numerous parcels that are scattered over this large hill give the wine a great balance of characteristics from sweet Meyer lemon notes to the first pick of yellow stone fruits in early summer. It has a wonderfully refreshing spring-like feel, adorned with sweet flowers, acacia honey and early spring grasses. Indeed, spring and summer nuance is what this wine is all about, however, earthiness and forest floor notes are very present. As already noted, Martin prides himself on the savory and subtle nature of his wines, all framed with precise and regal mineral notes of river rock and freshly scratched metal, like a carbon steel knife after a good scrubbing. Refreshingly delicate for a Smaragd, it’s one of the most quaffable in the range and can be thoroughly enjoyed without the need for your full attention on each sip. If there is one wine in Martin’s range that he (and I!) might favor, the Steinertal Riesling Smaragd may be it. This tiny vineyard’s particularities give its wines tremendous range and also make it uniquely special. Steinertal is one of the great sites in all of Austria and its aromas beam from the glass with enticing and full-of-energy, high-toned mineral impressions; if it sounds exciting, that’s because it is! These elements of the wine are likely due to its growth in purely gneiss rock, spare topsoil and Martin’s preference for earlier picking and rigorous sorting to remove any concentrated botrytis grapes. The vineyard’s heat-trapping amphitheater shape and the steep ravines on both sides also create a teeter-totter of hot days and the cold nocturnal mountain air that breezes in and cools down the vineyards. My tasting notes from last summer express that the second glass emits discrete, late summer stone fruits, citrus, flowers, and French lavender. Exotic and sweet herbal notes follow, displaying fresh thyme, lemongrass and subtle wheatgrass and watermelon rind nuances. In the deepest parts of the wine, the acidity is fluid but intensely focused, supported by a gentle gust of palate-refreshing tannins. This full-scale orchestra of profound intellectual and hedonistic pleasure seems endless, so prepare yourself. If one were to cut their Wachau teeth on this Riesling, it may set the bar a little high. As Burgundy grower David Duband says when we dig into his grand crus at the cellar, “Be careful. It’s very good…” If one were to ask a knowledgeable wine professional about the greatest vineyards in Austria, the Wachau’s Kellerberg would likely be mentioned in their first breath. Keller-berg, or “Cellar-mountain,” is without a doubt one of the Wachau's greatest vineyards, and Tegernseerhof’s Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd is the fullest Riesling in their range, surely vying for the top spot with Steinertal. Imposing and profound in every dimension (very Chambertin-like in this way), from structural elements to the balance of power and subtlety, the only known weakness of this type of wine can be its maker; fortunately, Martin has a handle on it. To attempt to describe all the nuances of this wine would be a paragraph with no end. However, to better understand the wine’s nature it would be easier to demonstrate it with an explanation of its terroir. The hill faces mostly southeast, giving it good morning sun but also an earlier sunset than the neighboring Riesling vineyards with more southerly and sometimes western exposures, like Loibenberg and Steinertal. Similar to Steinertal, Höhereck and Schütt, and unlike the main face of the large Loibenberg slope, Kellerberg is exposed to a large, open ravine to the east that brings in a rush of cool air during the night. The aspect and exposure to this ravine, along with mostly unplanted hills just to the west, allows the fruit to mature to ripeness without imparting excessive fruitiness, while highlighting its pedigreed gneiss bedrock and spare topsoil. It has a deep range of topsoil from volcanic, loess and bedrock-derived gneiss, and Tegernseerhof has six parcels inside its boundary that cover these soil types. Loess brings richness and lift, gneiss the tension and focus. Even more important than the nuances is the way this wine makes you feel: the energy, the profound reservation, and at the same time its generosity. Kellerberg is formidable and does indeed comfortably sit among the world’s greatest vineyards. There are also reloads of Tegernseerhof’s popular 2019 Bergdistel Grüner Veltliner und Riesling Smaragds. These wines labeled with the name Bergdistel are a blend of many different small plots not big enough to be made into their own wines. Some of the grapes also come from further west of Dürnstein, closer to Weissenkirchen, home to many great vineyards, most notably (for me) Achleiten. Tegernseerhof’s renditions of these wines are his most generous in the Smaragd category. They are another great example of drink-it-don’t-think-it fabulous Smaragd Rieslings that don’t hold anything back immediately upon opening. New Arrivals: Italy Poderi Colla, Piemonte (Langhe) I think I write more about Poderi Colla in our newsletters than any other producer we work with outside of Arnaud Lambert. We always have new things coming from these guys and they’re fun to talk about. The Collas, like Lambert, are one of the most important cornerstones of our entire portfolio. I simply never tire of drinking their wines and would be happy to have them as my desert island red wine producer, although the island would have to be a little less tropical because warm Nebbiolo doesn’t sound so appealing… The reason for my infatuation—that could more aptly be described as absolute love—is simple, but also a little complicated to explain… Colla is among very few other producers throughout Europe who represent to me an unmovable historical wine culture. The Collas, like other quiet giants of the wine world, didn’t alter their course over the last fifty years regardless of the constantly changing wine styles the broader market wanted. Through the years of conformity in the global market in European staple regions like Tuscany, Piedmont, Rioja, Burgundy and Bordeaux, some producers stayed the course on more natural methods through the age of chemical farming (since WW II), the caricature-like muscular and overplayed wines of the Age of Extraction (1990s-2000s), until today, with the welcome movement away from those eras toward softer handling and elegance over power on one side, and on the other to the culture of unapologetic and, unfortunately sometimes, unaccountably flawed natural wines whose fans fashion them as a sort of punk rock-like movement; the difference is that the respectable punk rockers were good musicians that knew how to play their instruments in order to hit the notes they intended to hit. Intention has everything to do with any great wine too, “natural” or traditionally crafted. Tino Colla in Bussia Dardi le Rose The game-changers of old, the unflappable ones, refused to conform. Think of the many iconic and unmistakable historical styles found in the wines made by producers similar to Clape, Rayas, Rousseau, Leroy, DRC, Lafarge, Pierre Morey, López de Heredia, Vega Sicilia, Giuseppe Rinaldi, or Bartolo Mascarello; you get the point! (Perhaps the only shift in some of these producer’s philosophies in the last fifty years is in the direction of more natural farming.) For me, Poderi Colla is also on that list. It’s true that the Colla family’s wines weren’t popular for decades, but why? Because they made them like they were made in the 1950s and 60s, and they weren’t cutting edge anymore after the 1970s until about a decade ago. The Collas made their wines more or less the same seventy years ago as they do today. For example, Colla’s Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose still goes through a two-week natural fermentation and is then aged two years in massive old barrels (50++ hectoliters) before bottling, as it was half a century ago. The difference is that now people get them because their graceful but traditionally sculpted and gently structured style is in again. Their wines are elegant and old-school, pale in color, subtle but fully expanding by the minute as they aerate, and, today, more pristinely crafted than in the past—perhaps the only thing I can think of that one might criticize about their style… Many of the great producers of wine know perfectly how to measure the risk in walking the line of volatile acidity in pursuit of x-factor perfection while remaining only a shade to the right of vulgarity. The Collas don’t walk that line, they keep it straighter from the start all the way to the finish, and that’s one of the many reasons why their wines are so incomparably reliable in this area. In fact, I cannot think of another producer with better consistency in their entire region—believe me, I’ve tried. The Collas are indeed pure on craft, thanks to the laser-sharp attention to detail of the family winemaker, Pietro Colla, with the help of his father, Tino, and their deeply ingrained three hundred years of knowledge passed down from the many Colla winegrowing generations. Another element I believe defines the Colla style is their unique position that lands between Piemontese and French style, more specifically, that of Burgundy and yesteryear’s Northern Rhône. I’ve often thought that the Colla’s wines would be less understood inside of a largely Italian portfolio, or a broad tasting of Italian wines because they are so straight. In many ways they fit perfectly into the expectation for the region, but in other ways they don’t. To better understand this, let’s rewind the clock a little. Back in the early 1960s, the late Beppe Colla (the family’s spiritual leader and a quiet revolutionary during his seventy years making wine and influencing his neighbors) went to Burgundy and it changed him. He returned home and decided to bottle, with the epic 1961 vintage, the first commercially marketed single-cru Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Dolcetto and Barbera. It’s hard to believe, but Beppe is the true O.G. of the single-cru wine movement in the Langhe. Beppe was the first to commercially do this in the region’s history, all bottled under the Prunotto label, a winery they owned until the early 1990s before they sold to Antinori and then launched Poderi Colla. Colla’s wines today bear the mark of that pivotal moment in Beppe’s perspective, and that’s why I view them as wines that agree as much with a French palate as with an Italian one. I’m also inclined to mention (and not massively expand on, though I really want to) that Piemonte is historically linked to France by way of the rulership of the territory by the Savoy for almost five-hundred years. Many things in Piemonte are very close to France, but none more than the Piemontese dialect, which is clearly heavy on French-like vocabulary. For me, Colla’s wines somehow embody this (even if the Collas may not see it that way), and it’s interesting to be mindful of this when their wines are in your glass. They’re surely Italian, but there is a distinctive dash of French there from influence hundreds of years ago, but even more recently with Beppe’s pilgrimage to Burgundy a half century ago. The best news with Colla is that we have a great relationship with them, and despite their major surge of interest by the global market as of late, we are still able to import a good quantity of wine from them. Most of what we have arriving from Colla are restocks on wines that we simply can’t seem to keep around long. However, their 2020 Dolcetto d’Abla “Pian Balbo” is a new release. Dolcetto is a grape that deserves more respect than it gets. I am sure every visit I’ve had with Tino Colla he tells me that Dolcetto is the wine the local winegrowers drink the most. It seems like they would drink their top Barolos and Barbarescos with every meal, but their reality is that they focus on wine all day and at the end of the day they want something a little easier going, and less serious but also delicious and complex, and unmistakably Piemontese—and that’s Dolcetto! Pian Balbo, sourced from Cascina Drago, their magnificent vineyard on the border of Barbaresco at around 330m altitude, is macerated on the skins for a week, or slightly less, and aged in stainless steel to preserve its fresh and bright fruit profile. The acidity is cleansing and the tannins smooth and lightly chalky. It may seem strange, but I often open Dolcetto on the nights when I need a couple-hour vacation from too much seriousness in my wines, much like the vignaioli do. Sometimes I find its simplicity just as thrilling as the complexity of other greater wines. But no matter whether a wine takes itself too seriously or not, Colla’s Dolcetto, with its unmistakable Piemontese aromas and tastes, transports me back to Piemonte, and what can be better than that? And the price? At four or five bucks per glass at your home wine bar, it’s almost free. When Dolcetto is in the right setting, however, it can indeed be serious business. We squeezed the Collas for a last batch of their 85% Dolcetto, 15% Nebbiolo blend, 2016 Bricco Del Drago, a monumental wine with this historical blend long before the concept of IGT came around, with the quality and guts to outlast even the most prestigious of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. I know that’s a big statement, but I, a former skeptic too, have been convinced of this wine’s chops from the numerous examples with decades of age, especially the 1970 that Tino Colla regularly speaks about with seemingly greater reverence than even all the great Barolo and Barbaresco he’s had in his seventy-plus years. Piedmont wine junkies, like us at The Source, know that 2016 has all the accolades (well-deserved), and they are a treasure to keep but also show fabulously now. Don’t miss an opportunity for a serious cellar wine at a very fair price for the pedigree that will likely outlive you but give you a lot of pleasure along the way. Do all those six-year-olds in your family (and extended family) a favor and lay some down until it’s time to give them some as a special and thoughtful gift. The 2016, and all the other vintages of this wine, will likely stand the test of time without much effort—probably better than many of the Barolo and Barbaresco wines from the same year, but at a third or quarter of the price. There’s more 2019 Barbera d’Alba “Costa Bruna” arriving as well. There was a battle between our sales team for quantities of this wine for our top restaurants and I’m sure these will go fast again. Notes from November 2021 Newsletter: Almost every vintage in the last twenty-five years (save a few, like 2002 and 2014) has brought greater credibility to Barbera as a world-class variety, and 2019 has kicked it up a couple notches. The 2019 Vintage was a long growing season with steady weather all the way through, and despite the lack of extremely high temperatures in the previous two vintages, it ripened perfectly, and its naturally high acidity relaxed just enough to bring its stockpile of complexities into balance in this slow growing season. What’s more is that Colla’s Barbera d’Alba “Costa Bruna” is sourced entirely from the Barbaresco cru, Roncaglie, on what would typically be a Nebbiolo exposition facing south, and with very old vines that were mostly planted in the 1930s. It offers a diverse combination of fruits, from bright red to dark, with sweet red and purple flowers and spice. It’s absolutely another Colla wine to pepper into your annual wine schedule. More of the outstanding 2019 Nebbiolo d’Alba hit too. We went as long on quantities as the Collas would let us with this wine. It’s truly one of the greatest Nebbiolo years and this one will simply blow out your expectations with respect to category and price. It’s made with the same care as a Barbaresco (a year in large, old botte) and has the same basic calcareous marls and sand. The difference is that it sits between 330-370m and covers a multitude of aspects from east to west, and sits at the top of the hill, fully exposed to cold air which makes for a wine of great tension and never any hint of desiccated fruit, only fresh and bright notes, like those old-school Barbaresco and Barolo wines we all miss. As we said back in our Notes from November 2021 Newsletter: While discussing the 2016 vintage in Piemonte at the start of the pandemic in Italy during a visit to the Collas (among about a dozen other top estates visits in Barolo and Barbaresco) in February of 2019, Tino Colla, who has seen more than fifty harvests as an adult, basically skipped over 2016 and jumped right into the merits of 2019, a vintage he felt would be one of the most important of his lifetime. Colla’s Nebbiolo d’Alba is a preview of that oncoming quality, and it’s gorgeous. If Nebbiolo is one of your passions and you need a price break without sacrificing quality, go deep on 2019 entry-level Nebbiolos. For the very serious collectors and Nebb-heads, the 2017 Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose MAGNUMS came in on this boat. The critics are circling back on this year and retracting a few of their initial concerns. Built to age for decades, and even longer in magnum, this could be a good one to take a look at. (We also have a few 2015 Barolo mags left in our inventory if mags of epic wine are your thing…) Crotin, Asti It seems that when we bring in wines from Colla we also take more wines from the Russo brothers at Crotin at the same time. The word Crotin is Piemontese dialect for “small cellars under the main wine cellar,” and is used for keeping the best wines for long-term aging. The Russo boys have been churning out some of the top values in Asti now for nearly a decade, under the assistance of the well-known prodigy enologist, Cristiano Garella. Their organically farmed vineyards are in some of the coldest growing sections of southern Piemonte, where the frigid temperatures offer grapes a long growing season, ideal for the high-toned aromatic Piemontese varieties. In these parts, it’s all about punching power inside of this lightweight division. We have the 2019 Barbera d’Asti “La Martina” finally arriving. It’s been more than two years since we ordered Barbera from these guys (and that’s what they specialize in!) because the last order of 2018 landed a month or two after the shutdowns of 2020 began. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you already know 2019 is a simply fabulous year for Piedmont. Wines like Barbera, known for their intense acidity, found their heights in this long and steady growing season (at least for my palate, whereas many growers here prefer the even hotter years for this grape) that helped the grape phenolics balance out this variety’s naturally high acid. Organically grown on calcareous sands and clay, the vineyard, La Martina, is in a very cold section of Asti and makes for a special profile mixture of crunchy but ripe, palate-staining dark red and purple fruit. It’s aged only in stainless steel, so you can expect notable purity here as well. Crotin’s 2020 Freisa “Aris” is made from this nearly forgotten grape variety that was ubiquitous in Piemonte only decades ago. Today, it’s been relegated mostly to the region’s backwaters in the wake of the mass propagation of Nebbiolo in Piedmont. There are still compelling examples to be found at cantinas like Brovia and Giuseppe Rinaldi, but perhaps with the ever-increasing demand for Barolo and Barbaresco, it won’t regain footing in the Langhe anytime soon. Nevertheless, it should be on anyone’s radar looking for more of the identifiable but difficult to describe Piemontese characteristics imprinted on all of its wines. From year to year, Freisa can vary in its tannin levels and if not managed well it can be a beast, but at Crotin’s Aris vineyard they’ve tamed it and it brings great pleasure with only a slight tilt toward its natural rusticity. Over the pandemic, the Russo brothers came up with a new wine bottled in liters: 2020 Vino Rosso Contadino “Beverin”. The label is totally different (more fun!) than the others in their range and it is certifiable Piemontese glou glou, by design—not a typical wine style for this very traditional region! It’s a blend of 80% Bonarda (the fiesta grape) mixed with 10% Freisa (the curfew police for the Bonarda party), and 10% Grignolino to bring more elegance and beauty to the scene. Beverin is Piemontese dialect that implies “a light and easy to drink wine.” I took my first sample bottle to a tasting in Portugal with some of our producers there and it was a favorite for all who tasted it. For the price and quality, it’s tough to beat for those looking for a glass of Piemontese deliciousness. New Arrivals: France Patrick Baudouin, Anjou I finally made it back to the Loire Valley three weeks ago after an almost three-year absence! Crazy! Last summer I hit the road for six weeks straight at the end of spring and into the early summer and missed only the northern part of Champagne and all of the Loire Valley before the fall Covid restrictions started to complicate things again. It was strange for me to miss this part of what has been my usual wine route because over the years I often stopped there twice in the same year. Now, one hour and twenty minutes on a plane from Porto drops me right into Nantes, making it one of the easiest trips from Portugal. It was a great tour and nice to finally see our friends there. I took some days in Saumur and then a few in Montlouis (some very cool things coming from there a few months from now!) and finally hit Patrick Baudouin on my last day before flying back home. Since I saw Patrick last, he seems to have swapped out his old crew for a group of younger workers in the vineyard and cellar. I’m sure this will influence some of the wines in the coming vintages. Months prior to the pandemic when those nasty tariffs were imposed, we had an order waiting to set sail from this natural-wine guru and somewhat controversial Loire Valley winegrower. The order was suspended and then the pandemic hit. We added a few more goodies but managed to maintain some quantity of great wines from 2015 and 2017. The first wine is Patrick’s 2019 Anjou Blanc “Effusion”, a Chenin Blanc grown on a mix of a few different parcels of vines on metamorphic and volcanic rocks, the latter formation was the inspiration for the name of this bottling from “effusive” igneous rocks, magmatic rock that cool on the surface of the earth instead of underground, which are known as “intrusive” igneous rocks. We historically import the highest volume from Patrick, so it may be the most recognizable. It’s made in a simple way, as are all the dry Chenin Blanc in Patrick’s range, with barrel aging mostly in older French oak with very little intervention. I find that all of Patrick’s wines go down very easily, but Effusion is the one that performs its best melodies in its younger years, and that’s why it’s always released earlier than the others, along with Les Fresnaye, a vineyard that has seen a lot of trouble in the years from frost. Volcanic ash rocks from one of Baudouin’s vineyards for his Anjou Blanc “Effusion” Produced from Chenin vines planted in 1947, the 2015 & 2017 Anjou Blanc “Les Gats” bottlings represent perhaps Patrick’s highest level in his range of dry Chenin in this neck of the woods, on the left bank of the Loire. The others may equal it, but Les Gats carries a few x-factor notes that in my opinion often separate it from the others. The other dry wines in the range are maybe a little more predictable in some ways, whereas Les Gats, even once you think you know it, somehow reveals a new secret with each vintage. That is the case with these two very good Chenin Blanc vintages, and to have them side by side in a tasting shows the merit of these two stellar years and the talent of this northeast-facing site grown on ancient schist that dates to Pangean times. Les Gats is raised mostly in older barrels (perhaps with a new one slipped in there occasionally) and is always released quite late. The 2017 is the new release and the 2015 was a wine that I requested before the pandemic that Patrick held onto for us. The quantities of both wines are minuscule, but at least we finally have some! We wanted to bring in some stickies from the Loire Valley because there is a small but growing interest again in the category. To work with Patrick on these wines is always a pleasure because they are typically quirky sweet wines, but under Patrick’s direction of natural methods in the vineyard they take on a few lesser-known layers in this part of the Côteaux du Layon, an area that is largely chemically farmed. The 2018 Côteaux du Layon “Les Bruandières” grows very close to the borders of Quarts de Chaumes, the most famous sweet wine appellation of the Loire Valley. Historically, Les Bruandières was on equal footing as Quarts de Chaumes but was not given its own appellation, perhaps due to its very small size? Les Bruandières is a fabulous sweet wine in the sense that it’s not overwhelming with too much sugar. I even sometimes find myself drinking it at a still-wine pace, like drinking a fabulous German Spätlese or aged Auslese, because the balance is gorgeous. It’s perfect for tasting menus when the dessert or cheese course needs something sweet, but it’s not overbearing after an extensive meal and at a time when palate fatigue (or disinterest in more wine) begins to set in. The 2015 Quarts de Chaume “Les Zersilles” is a very different story than Les Bruandières despite also being a sticky. It’s denser and darker in color, and serves a very different purpose at the end of the meal (I cannot imagine having it at any other point in a meal other than the end!) geared toward a more decadent finish. In contrast to some of the profound, sweet Auslese and TBA wines of Germany, this purely Chenin Blanc wine exists in a more deeply earthy, damp, and herbal sweetness—almost like a Sauternes (I haven’t written that word for almost two decades!) without the aristocratic gold trim and aim for perfection; like us, Patrick prefers the perfectly imperfect wines. Here, in Patrick’s Les Zersilles, it’s a berry selection; not a selection of berries that are totally free of funk, but rather full of the good funk! The quantity of this wine is even less than the others and is meant to be for the many restaurants with tasting programs looking for truly organic and naturally made, high quality sweet wines. Patrick Baudouin
We know our business is not going to save the world. But we’d like to help brighten as many moments as we can. We plan to continue offering you deals over the next months with our overstocked goodies that were originally destined for our restaurant customers. We can’t keep them forever and our growers always have another pile of wines ready for us once we're through with the ones we have. While we have hundreds of excellent wines, this short list has some classics that you might be familiar with. As you choose your dozen bottles, or meet the $300 minimum, to get our 20% discount, these wines will help you build your order. They are more in the middle-of-the-road style, and universal enough for just about anyone searching for a lot of pleasure and intellectual stimulation out of the same bottle. The Sorgente Prosecco project was born out of the mutual desire for The Source and a special undisclosed estate (sorry I can't specify who) to work together on this Prosecco wines. The proximity of these vineyards to the Alps and the Adriatic Sea brings an ideal temperature characterized by large diurnal swings from day to night. As you may know, this is crucial for a proper Prosecco to remain true to form (bright, fresh, minerally) and function (pleasure over intellect, although both are strong here.) Limestone and clay are that magical mix of soils that impart many of the world’s great wines with interesting x-factors. Yeah, it’s still Prosecco, but it’s a good one. And it’s been noticed by some of the best restaurants in New York, California and Illinois where it's poured by the glass. (The dosage level between the two wines is 12g/l for the Extra Dry and 5g/l for the Brut, which means that the Brut will be the drier of the two.) The Château de Brézé Crémant de Loire is another wine in our collection that over-delivers for the price, especially when considering the exhausting effort made to craft such an inexpensive sparkler from one of the Loire Valley’s greatest terroirs, Brézé. This now famous commune in Saumur is known for its laser-sharp Chenin Blanc wines, and fresh, bright and extremely age-worthy Cabernet Franc. The blend here is about 75% Chenin Blanc with the rest Chardonnay; the latter is used to soften up, add body and round out the edges of the extremely tense character of the Chenin grown in the coldest sites of this already frigid hill. Our next gem comes from the Wachau, Austria’s most celebrated wine region. It’s hard to dispute the Mittelbach Federspiel Grüner Veltliner as likely the top value wine in this region from stellar winegrowers. What’s more is that it comes from some of the region’s most revered terroirs, like Loibenberg, Kellerberg and Steinriegl. So why is the price much more than fair? The grapes come from mostly young vines from a set of recently purchased vineyards for Weingut Tegernseerhof, the producer of this wine. Martin Mittelbach, the winegrower, wanted to observe how these new wines performed for some years in the cellar to determine what sections would go into his top wines, and what should go into his entry-level wines. For now, it's all in one cuvée and it's classic Mittelbach style: crystalline, energized and pure. Emmanuelle Mellot's Sauvignon from the Loire Valley is grown not too far from Sancerre, her hometown and the location of her family’s historic domaine, Alphonse Mellot. However, this wine is made by one of her close friends (who asked to remain anonymous) in support of Emmanuelle’s negociant project, which focuses on satellite appellations close to Sancerre. To keep the wine straight and easy to drink, but still loaded with the unmistakable mark of Loire Valley Sauvignon, the natural fermentation and the aging takes place exclusively in stainless steel tanks. While it’s indeed marked by the region’s classic characteristics of citrus fruits, mineral elements and freshness, it’s a gentle and easily accessible Sauvignon Blanc. Arnaud Lambert's Saumur Blanc "Clos de Midi" is our top selling single white wine to restaurants for by-the-glass programs. We usually struggle to keep it in stock, but the coronavirus has changed that, at least for now… Once you’ve had it, it’s easy to imagine why somm culture can’t get enough. For an experience that combines an immense amount of intellectual stimulation and pleasure, it’s hard to get a more complete white wine than this for the price. It comes from one of the colder sites on the now famous Brézé hill, and with Arnaud’s soft touch there is a fine balance between tension and generosity. It’s never easy to pick a favorite wine, especially if you’ve made it a habit of drinking well with Europe's best wine regions. That said, we can’t say which rosé in our collection tops our list, but if we were to choose the most complex and energized, it would probably be François Crochet's Sancerre Rosé made entirely of Pinot Noir. A textbook example of finely wrought Sancerre rosé, this is hard to keep your hands off, but keep in mind that it will age effortlessly for numerous years. (Tip: Don’t believe the myth about the ageability of rosé; especially Pinot Noir rosés from northern France. They are often even better the year following their release.) A short maceration on the skins here typically laces the wine's charming but deeply layered nose with the essence of elegant green citrus, sweet pink rose, passion fruit, and fresh green herbs. This wine gets top honors if you need a little extra complexity and tension in your rosé. Another wine that has reigned supreme for many restaurants we work with is Arnaud Lambert's Saumur-Champigny "Les Terres Rouges." It was and still remains one of our top sellers since we first began importing wine ten years ago. The vineyards that make up this lip-smackingly good wine are from Saumur-Champigny’s most southern commune, Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg, which makes it one of the coldest areas of the appellation. The fragrant dark earth notes of Cabernet Franc may give the sensation of grapes grown in black soils with wet forest moss, grass and bramble. Its name translates to “the red earth,” but it's grown on light brown clay with alluvial sands atop a bed of stark white tuffeau limestone. The naturally cool harvest conditions of Saumur, the clay and limestone soils, and a life spent in stainless steel tanks renders this medium-bodied wine an absolutely refreshing red quaffer. Of course we have to have Beaujolais on this list! The young Chardigny boys are fast on their way to stardom and they’ve already caught the attention of a few French “natural wine” luminaries, like their southerly neighbor in Fleurie, Jean-Louis Dutraive, and over in the Jura, Jean-François Ganevat, who both have signed on to buy some of their beautiful, organically farmed fruit. The Chardigny Saint-Amour "a la Folie" leads with a punch of charming bright and full red fruit, freshly cut sweet green herbs and warm earthiness. The cellar aging takes place in a mix of concrete, stainless steel, and neutral oak barrels, which keeps the wine full of life. If a wine could indeed exemplify “love” in a bottle, this Saint-Amour may be it. From the moment the Pas de L'Escalette "Les Petit Pas" concept was created, the intention was to be a charmer from the getgo and not taken too seriously—hence the full color pinkish red label with neon green footprints. It's a multi-parcel blend of limestone terroirs with 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Carignan. It's bottled the spring that follows its harvest to keep it lively and bright. It’s perfect for warm weather because even though it's a red wine, with a little chill it loses nothing but doesn’t feel heavy under the sun. During fermentation they use a sort of soft infusion technique instead of the typical but stronger extraction methods (pigeage, pumpover, etc.) This renders a wine that bursts with fresh red and crunchy purple fruits. Not only does the Russo family’s organically-run cantina make fabulously good “price-sensitive” wines, they produce superb hazelnuts and many other delicious edibles, but their preserves get my full attention, especially the apricot jam. The Crotin Barbera d'Asti has been a constant favorite of many of our top Italian restaurants and others with Italian influenced cooking. It comes from likely the coldest section of Asti—quite close to Turin—which was the first area to be abandoned after WWII (because it had a train station while many other areas further south didn't!) and one of the last to be replanted since. It's a wine that showcases the classic qualities of Barbera, Piedmont’s most widely planted red grape. It’s fresh and textured with soft tannins and mouth-watering wild fruit qualities. Think of those Italian cooking nights without the need to hold the wine so precious; just let it lift your spirit and raise your glass to the brave of Italy trying to save their greatest treasures—nonna e nonno—who still gift our world with the ancient secrets of their splendid culture. After living in Campania for a year, I’ve become crazy for Aglianico (and the Amalfi Coast’s indigenous white grapes and their unapologetically upfront and friendly nature and perfection with salty fish and seafood). Madonna delle Grazie's "Messer Oto" Aglianico del Vulture, is a charmer too, and perhaps the cantina’s most versatile wine with potential to appeal to a broad range of drinkers. It maintains impressive aromas and freshness, while allowing its natural earthiness, beautiful red and dark fruits and an ethereal nose filled with smells of Italian herbs to freely move about the glass. It's named after a fountain in Venosa, from where you can see these vineyards off in the distance. Paolo Latorraca, the winegrower, commented that the wine should be easy to drink, like you're drinking from a fountain. Yes, it's like that. So we end on another truly high note in an ensemble of wines overloaded with talent and modest prices. Poderi Colla's Nebbiolo d'Alba is no ordinary Nebbiolo d'Alba. It sits on a hillside just across the road from Barbaresco vineyards on nearly the same dirt: sandy limestone marls. This estate in Colla's stable of three estates, known as Drago, has a quiet, legendary history; so much so that it inspired Bepe Colla, one of Barolo and Barbaresco’s legendary vignoli, to bet on it and make it the family cantina's home base. The Collas stop at nothing short of treating it with the same reverence in the cellar as they do their Bussia Barolo and Roncaglie Barbaresco. It’s made just the same (in large, old wooden botte) and aged for the same requirement as a Barbaresco—two years before bottling with more than nine months in wood; in this case, the wine is aged for a full year in wood. This is serious juice, and if you want to keep your budget straight and drink special wines on a regular basis at good prices, it’s a must.
Our first visit with the Boys of Saumur started with the inseparable pair, Romain Guiberteau and Brendan Stater-West. As it turns out, Brendan (who spends his days working for Romain) hit a wall in his pursuit of trying to make something more of his work in Saumur. Late last year, he was eyeing a small parcel of vineyards for his new domaine, but it didn’t work out the way he’d hoped and he contemplated going back home to Oregon. Romain immediately stepped in to invest some of his own resources to keep Brendan’s dream alive, while preserving their working relationship; he was able to secure for him a short-term contract for two hectares of land on Brézé—one hectare of red and one of white. So now there is another new producer on Brézé, our favorite hill! J.D. and I were there to witness the cutting of the first vine on one of Brendan’s new parcels. The vines are old and in need of a lot of love, which these two will easily supply. The potential is very promising. Our tasting with these two was inspirational. Romain always aims to improve his ideas and it seems that his newest wines do just that. Brendan’s second vintage has taken a good jump up from his 2015, which was already a very successful first vintage. As usual, our visit with Arnaud Lambert was inspiring. He has turned another new corner with his wines and there are only good things in the air. He made a few special cuvées for us from Chenin in Montsoreau, a commune within Saumur-Champigny, right next to the river, and Bonnes Nouvelles, one of the historic lieux-dits of Brézé that was used in previous vintages for sweet wines, and they’ll be coming to California soon. Sadly, there were only two barrels of each of these two delicious wines, so the quantities are miniscule. More to come on that later. I’ve known Arnaud now for eight years and I’ve noticed that he has a newfound level of confidence and conviction. His 2015 reds are outrageously delicious and have begun to match the quality of his best white wines. His 2015s, 2016s and 2017s are exciting and forcefully continue the march upward. If you haven’t noticed yet, he has merged his two domaines under one name, Arnaud Lambert, which will make his work easier to follow. Arnaud and his wife Geraldine’s son, Antoine (the little guy in the pictures), is now three years old and charming everyone everywhere, just like his mom and dad. My time in the Loire was the shortest I’ve spent there in years, and it was sad to go so quickly.
One of my favorite producer visits to make each year is with Patrick Baudouin. He is something out of a JRR Tolkien book, perhaps an aspiring wizard (which he may already be) or a guru of sorts, who is not short on opinion when it comes to the winemaking practices of other estates when driving around to visit his. His vineyards are certified, but well beyond the typical organic practice. Once you set foot in his vineyards, it is hard to keep up with him as he starts a fast paced walk up and down, row after row, taking note of their progress. He is a man at one with his vines and it shows in the delicate nature of his wines. Patrick's wines are somewhat magical in expression. His whites, made exclusively from Chenin Blanc, reveal layer after layer of savory notes of fruits, dried herbs and grasses, acacia honey, and spices, all woven together on an ethereal wavelength. He is a musician turned maestro, conducting his vines to deliver soft, beautiful and tranquil music.
Spain’s Asturian Coast Maybe I’m just imagining it because I’ve been gone for so long, but everyone here in California seems to smile more and is generally more friendly than I remember. Perhaps it’s because I’m so happy to see people out and about, or maybe it’s because I can finally see people’s mouths again! On the other hand, I am sorry to see the prices of everything climbing so much. It’s been two years since I was last in the States, and I didn’t have a personal American pandemic experience, but the changes that have come about since 2019 are incredible; I hope that the quickly rising inflation will be curbed soon and return closer to a more manageable level. We’ll see… Wine News: The good, the bad, and, well, a touch of the rest… The prices of European wines in general haven’t yet seen any unpredictable increases, aside from those caused by the freight woes that have thus far been counterbalanced by the dollar’s increased strength against the euro over the last quarter. We should also expect some shifts given the increased cost of basic materials like bottles, labels, and corks. These are only a few of the factors that might increase prices, which are proportionately negligible for expensive wines, but for wines of lower price points, the differences will be more noticeable and may push some of them up into the next tier; those $20 retail bottles might soon be $23/$24, and the $9.99s might hit $11.99. Thankfully, we’re not there yet. Prices in regions like Burgundy are always on the rise, while most others remain more stable. Burgundy has for many years suffered greatly on many fronts, what with the Côte d’Or’s hailstorms of the early 2010s, the massive heat in 2018, 2019, and 2020, followed by the terribly difficult 2021 vintage yet on another front was cold and wet, a paradise for fungus. The expectation of fresher and tighter wines with lower natural alcohol that are sometimes paler and even harder in their youth are showing signs of possible irreversible change toward a bolder style, despite the efforts of gentler handling and earlier picking. Many regions that are known and counted on for their snappy, fresh wines seem to be hanging on by a thread to their past iterations, and it’s hard to know how long they will be able to hold the line. Continental/Mediterranean climate wine regions furthest from mountains and oceans seem to be suffering the most. Eventually we will have to accept that our expectations for what was and even for what is, at this very moment, will have to shift. Some regions who in the past could barely find market-friendly ripeness in their wines are finding new success, while others seem to be experiencing a very different style of wine than in the past, or are in a concerning and heartbreaking decline. There are a couple of solutions, including the obvious dramatic change in the way humanity goes about its daily life by making the necessary adjustments to curb climate change (which in itself would be a paradoxical goal for a wine importer to fulfill). Another approach, like any other investment, is to explore a greater diversity with our wine choices in search of newly emerging talents in incredible terroirs that have been lost to the economic crisis of generations past, many of whom work toward the goal of environmental preservation. Anyone who has followed us for a while knows that we’ve greatly expanded our European foothold. Our adventures have led us to a wider range of wines outside of France (our traditionally strongest country) and further into Spain, Portugal, Italy, with a dab here and there in Germany and Austria. Wines from the latter three countries were long supplied to us by other importers, whereas today we import them all directly ourselves. New Terroir Map – Trás-os-Montes, Portugal I’m holding onto many geological maps that we’ve finished so we can release them as nice support material for the arrival of new wines from those regions, and this month we have one for our releases from Trás-os-Montes, in the far northeastern region of Portugal. It’s a remote place near the border of Spain to the north and east with gorgeous earth colors from orange to red to even yellow earth, a rainbow of wild shrubs, and a vast open blue or star-pocked sky, framed by rugged and severely-eroded mountains that are now big hills and short mountains, at best, but are thought to have once been as tall as today’s Himalayas. This is an agricultural land with a massive output of olive oil, grapes, vegetables, fruit trees, and animal products. For our growers there, Menina d’uva and Arribas Wine Company, it’s a land endowed with a natural talent for wine from ancient, indigenous vines that often have dozens of names for the same grape variety. It’s a colorful map because this is a land of great geological variety in a very arid landscape. Enjoy it and read further into this newsletter for more about wines arriving this month from our producers in this region. The Best News: Containers are arriving now! Some of our long-awaited new producers are finally touching down after the first batch of enormously delayed containers, along with some wines that are nearly a couple of years late. A few orders on this boat were dispatched more than six months ago! Last month it was Italian arrivals, this month they’re all from France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal. France is the slowest of all countries door-to-door, and our container from France was launched almost two months before the Iberian container, and they’re landing at the same time. Crazy days... Portugal I know of no other producers in the wine world with a greater commitment to finding extraordinary terroirs in the middle of nowhere than our two from Trás-os-Montes: Arribas Wine Company and Menina d’uva. Most winemakers want at least a little contact with inspired restaurant cooking and access to a good market. Here, there is nothing of the sort for hours by car, and these two are even separated by a forty minute drive, even though they rely on each other when they need to borrow winery equipment and materials. I tip my hat to their pursuit, funded solely by their own pocketbooks and a sincere desire to make something special in the isolation of what appears to be a dying wine region. Menina d'uva's "Ciste" Menina d’uva The new arrivals from French transplant with Portuguese heritage, Aline Domigues, under her Menina d’uva label are the same three cuvées that blitzed through our wholesale channels last year. Her white wine, Líquen, is deeply textured (a classic white profile from the top to the bottom of this country) raised in stainless steel and mostly composed of Malvasia, along with a field blend of ancient varieties grown on her area’s mix of metamorphic rocks—various slates, schists and gneiss. Líquen’s characteristic aromas evoke the sense of highland grasslands with dried flora, rock outcroppings, and open blue skies. It’s overtly savory, which makes it ideal for food; in fact, it’s kinda like food, with its attractive aromas of dried pasta, bread dough, and dried herbs and grasses. The fruit is in the white-flesh spectrum, with pear, apple and cherimoya. Texturally, Líquen is a mouthful despite no intentional skin contact outside of a gentle crush by foot prior to pressing. The high amplitude metal and mineral sensations in its youth are palate staining and resonate with a streak of fresh acidity down the center and back into the throat. The finish is lengthy and activates all points on the palate, from the front, sides, middle, and back. Overall, it’s an extremely pleasant wine and its freshness is a welcome surprise from this region known for its weighty, less interesting, white wines. Aline holding a ciste, the image used for her Ciste label. The first red-colored wine in Aline’s range, Ciste, is a mixture of 70% Bastardo Preta (Trousseau, in France and Brancellao in Spain, among its many other names) and Negreda (known in Spain as Mouratón, Tinta Gorda, and Juan Garcia), and 30% white, with Malvasia, Bastardo Branco, Formosa, and others in minuscule amounts. Here in the two villages of these vineyards, Junqueira and Matela, the soil is more clay-rich and alluvial, which makes for a supple wine despite its high aromatic lift, fabulous textures, and unexpected palate weight—it looks like a lightweight but feels like a middleweight. The grapes are completely whole bunch and co-fermented for only four days and aged in stainless steel. The short time on skins is intended to achieve good fruit and floral extraction without digging too far before carbonic characteristics overwhelm the wine. Aline wants to keep this one truer to the expression of the place without using fermentation techniques that push too much fruit and fermentative aromas to the forefront. The first vintage, 2018, was lights-out delicious. The following vintage was the same, and this year should be even better. In its youth, it’s aromatically effusive and bright, and carries the scents of this arid countryside and its moorland brush and sweet, poppy-like aromas. The fruit characteristics are concentrated around reds, oranges and yellows—think wild and snappy-to-the-tooth cherries, pomegranate, and the bright flavor of early fall Fuyu persimmons. Menina d’uva's vineyard that produces her wine, Ciste. Menina d’Uva’s Palomba is made of 90% Negreda, a vine known to produce big, juicy, dark-colored berries but with surprisingly very little tannin. It’s mixed with other red grapes few outside or even inside of Portugal have heard of, like Uva de Rei, Moscatel Preta, Moscatel Roxo, among others. It comes from five different plots located in the villages of Uva, Mora and Vale de Algoso, and is grown on a mixture of schist and quartz scattered about on the surface of the vineyards. However, a walk through many of the plots revealed stone walls made with gneiss, slate, and schist—a clear indicator that it’s not so easy to say precisely what the bedrock is underfoot in the area, even in small parcels. In the cellar, Palomba was about one-third destemmed by hand, the fermentation lasted for two weeks and was gently extracted throughout by foot. Negreda has a tendency for taking on reductive characteristics and often needs more time in the bottle before it’s time to dig in. Aline’s wine, Ciste, by contrast, is off to the races upon opening. The pressure points within Aline’s wines are deep and fully mouth filling while remaining ethereal and tense. Both red wines mirror their maker and are filled with generosity, joy, calm, energy, and subtle wit. Arribas Wine Company The guys over at Arribas Wine Company, Ricardo Alves and Frederico Machado, continue their reclamation project in the far eastern edge of Trás-os-Montes, always within sight of the Douro River and the Spanish border. Never have I seen two people so committed in mind, body, soul, blood, sweat and youth, to their massive project to protect what remains of this landscape and its more than fifty indigenous grape varieties (and counting!) from big-business wine companies. All their wines are co-fermented field blends from dozens of parcels with so many geologically different spots (mostly igneous rocks and to a lesser degree, metamorphic) along the Douro River where a short length of river acts as the physical northeastern border between Spain and Portugal. Arribas Wine Company parcels scattered below with the Douro River in view. These guys don’t know the proportion of grape varieties that make up their wines because it’s simply impossible to ascertain, but there are few blended grape wines in the world with such terroir distinction as theirs. These wines taste and feel of the summer sun and its freezing summer nights that can swing more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Some wines are bright red and with 11.5% alcohol, like the seventy cases produced of Quilómetro; others are inky black and animal but with 12% alcohol and raging freshness, like Raiola, with just over a hundred cases made. Their starting red, Saroto Tinto, is a perfect balance of high and low tones—the result of more than fifty different ancient, indigenous, old-vine varieties farmed in different plots picked together and forged into one masterful and profoundly complex wine that should fall within any curious wine drinker’s budget. The reds of Arribas are tremendous, and while Quilómetro and Raiola are spendy, they are well worth it for the experience. Drone selfie taken in the Trás-os-Montes Arribas Wine Company has new additions arriving on this boat for which I had to push their buttons to increase our allocation: Saroto Branco and Saroto Rosé wines. This dizzying duo is extremely low production—considerably smaller than the already limited Saroto Tinto—with loads of familiar, beautiful nuances, and with characteristics that may be a first for many, even those with a lot of experience with Portuguese wine. Like the rest, both are field blends of uncountable grape varieties and made in a very simple way using a mix of barrel and concrete aging. Interestingly, the rosé is an equal blend of red and white grapes. It’s easy to see that neither of these Saroto wines are fined or filtered, and they represent extremely well made natty (not nasty!) wines. Given the overwhelming demand for orange wines (Saroto white is really an orange wine) and the drastic limit on the rosé, these wines will evaporate quickly, so reach out as soon as possible if you are interested. Spain Manuel Moldes Things would be a lot easier with Manuel Moldes’ wines if we could buy them by the container. The reality is that we can’t, and what we do get disappears in a flash—which is only fun if you're fast on the draw. We cut our teeth some years ago with a good Albariño producer in the south of Rías Baixas, in the subzone of Contado de Tea, just across the Miño River from Portugal’s most renowned subzone of Vinho Verde, Monção e Melgaço. Salnés, home to Manuel’s Albariños, is ground zero for the top wines and producers in the entire region. Most vineyards are within sight of the Atlantic, and its regulating effect and generally cold temperatures supercharge its Albariños with high acidity levels rarely equaled in still white wine, the world over. Manuel (whose friends and family call him Chicho—same nickname for his father and older brother…) is not just a fortunate producer who benefits from the magnificent terroirs of Salnés, he’s also widely considered one of its very best, along with wineries like Albamar, Nanclares, Zárate, and, perhaps most of all (at least for me), Forjas del Salnes’ Leirana wines, a collaboration of the Spanish luminaries Raúl Pérez and Rodrigo Mendes. Manuel’s white wine range is a sure thing, and 2019 is a perfectly-suited vintage for his style: intense mineral, zippy freshness, citrus for days, and gobs of subtle complexities. The first Albariño in his range, 2019 Afelio, comes from a collection of different parcels (more than twenty) mostly grown on granite soils and a smidge of the rare and prized vineyards grown on schist. It’s aged in a mix of tanks and neutral French oak barrels. For those of you who know Arnaud Lambert’s gorgeous Saumur Chenin Blanc, Clos du Midi, from Brézé, this is a solid answer to it from Rías Baixas. It’s simply far too good for its price, and its limited quantity makes it hard to spread around too far. Coming from a very rare bedrock and topsoil composition of severely decomposed schist, 2019 A Capela de Aios is serious business. In contrast to Afelio and its quasi-Clos du Midi characteristics floating high in the ether, this wine has substance that could easily be compared to other Chenin Blancs we work with from Patrick Baudouin, in France’s Anjou, an area with many vineyards on the same rock type developed during the same series of geological events that took place around three-hundred million years ago: the Variscan orogeny. This wine is aged solely in old 500-liter French oak barrels for a year or so before bottling in order to sculpt its powerful body and dynamic power. Even more limited than Afelio, it’s simply a must for anyone seriously into dry Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Chablis, and the Savoie’s ripper, Jacquère. A mighty wine with seriously fine trim. Last in the range of Manuel’s Albariños is the 2019 As Dunas, perhaps the newest and most important unicorn in the world of serious white wine. Manuel, Raúl Pérez and Rodrigo Mendes discovered this small collection of vineyards grown on extremely fine-grained beach sand derived from schist, in the far south of Salnés, overlooking the Ría de Pontevedra and the Atlantic. With an almost entirely new and exciting face of Albariño, these three winegrowers are splitting the parcels and bottling them under each of their own labels. Its combination of fine schist sand and the open face to Atlantic winds renders an Albariño with extremely refined nuances of citrus and slightly golden-brown sweet spices, and an explosive pallet supercharged by acidic freshness and deep salinity. As Dunas, translated as the dunes, is as rare as it is special. With only 120 bottles of this wine imported for the entire US, there simply won’t be enough to go around. Manuel and the As Dunas sands Manuel’s red 2018 Acios Mouros comes from Rías Baixas and is composed of 60% Caiño Redondo, 20% Espadeiro, and 20% Loureiro Tinto. The first two of these grapes have more acid than tannin and bright aromatics, while the latter is darker with an equally high level of matching tannin and acidity. In Rías Baixas and Northern Portugal’s Monção e Melgaço, red wine historically had a majority share of vineyard land, whereas today it’s the opposite. Red wines of Rías Baixas are often terribly acidic and intense with bright aromas, but there are those that manage to wrangle what may have been beasts in another cellar into something more pleasant, aromatically addicting and much more inviting—while still maintaining the vigorous energy of a white wine. Grown on a mixture of granite and schist bedrock, many of the vines are ancient, with some of them on pre-phylloxera rootstocks that are as old as two hundred years. The average age of vines is around fifty, which helps curb what may be excessive energy from the youngest of them. The old and ancient vines also impart a richer mid-palate with sappier fruit—both welcome flesh enhancers for this otherwise straight-shooting red that feels every bit as much a white, save the tannins, red and black fruits, and earthy savory notes accentuated with nuances of bay leaf and spice. 2018 was a much warmer vintage than the surrounding years, which makes this year’s Acios Mouros a standout from any iteration bottled before it. It’s special and as rare as the others in Manuel’s range. Salnés subzone of Spain's Rías Baixas A long-time friendly connection with Bierzo producer José Antonio Garcia resulted in the creation of Lentura, a complete outlier in Manuel’s lineup. In this land known for its rustic, heavy wines, 2019 Lentura is a Bierzo wine led by vibrant natural tension and freshness, red and black fruits, pointed mineral textures, and medium-to-low-weight alcohol compared to most of the wines made in this region. Alcohol and power are easy to achieve in Bierzo; it’s finding balanced elegance that presents the much greater challenge. A little more than three hours toward the east from Rías Baixas, the climate in Bierzo is extreme with a much more continental/Mediterranean influence and very little influence from the Atlantic. The summer days can be as hot as 45°C (113°F) while the nights can drop to 15°C (59°F), making for one of the most extreme diurnal summertime shifts in the entire world of wine. During winter it often reaches temperatures as low as -8°C (18°F), or maybe even colder. Bierzo also claims the distinction of the oldest average vine age within Spain, and quite possibly all of Europe. The mix for the 2019 Lentura is 70% Mencia and 30% Alicante Buschet (the 2018 was 60% Alicante Buschet and 40% Mencia), making for a more elegant version than last year’s Lentura, which was already a delicious, fuller-bodied wine. Its altitude and geologic setting are as broad as its diurnal shift. On the valley floor at an altitude of 300 meters, the vines are grown on clay, sand and large cobbles, while high up on the hills toward the west, the altitude can exceed 1000 meters and is grown on pizarra (slate) bedrock and topsoil. Manuel’s Bierzo is rendered from vines with an average age of seventy years and comes from both the valley floor and high up on the slate hillside. In the cellar it is fermented with 20% whole bunches for five to seven days, followed by aging in an equal balance of stainless steel and old, 300-liter barrels. Manuel really hit the mark in 2019, making this his best yet. Germany Wasenhaus vineyards for Am Kreuz wines, official vineyard name: Staufener Rotemberg. Wasenhaus The much-anticipated new vintage from Wasenhaus is finally arriving! There are a half dozen or more new cuvées added to our roster this year and the problem is that the quantities are so minuscule that it will be hard to satisfy the demand. Despite their obviously superb and game-changing quality, I am so surprised by how well these wines have been received by the market; who would’ve thought that German Spätburgunder and Weissburgunder have become some of the most coveted wines in our entire portfolio? Apologies in advance that we won’t be able to satisfy all requests. For those of you who will acquire some, enjoy this glimpse into the bright future of non-Riesling German wines. There’s a video on our website of Alex Götze taking us through their entire range. Don’t miss it! The boys of Wasenhaus, Alex Götze (left) and Christoph Wolber (right). Weingut Wechsler In recent years, there haven’t been many more exciting new arrivals to our collection than Katharina Wechsler, a superstar-in-the-making German Riesling producer with ridiculous vineyard holdings in the epicenter for dry German Riesling, Rheinhessen’s Westhofen and Flörsheim-Dalsheim. This organic (certified since 2021 vintage) and biodynamic winegrower is the owner of enviable holdings of the vineyard, Kirchspiel, and a small chunk of perhaps the most coveted of all, Morstein. With not only Riesling in play, Katharina loves concocting wines that range from pure pleasure and fun, like Sexy MF, her Pinot Noir rosé that is too delicious to be true, her savory orange wines, to her classically-styled dry wines, like the knockout Scheurebe Trocken, also arriving on this container. However, the most important wine arriving this month (the big cru wines will come on the next container) is her entry-level Riesling Trocken. It will give any of Germany’s top entry-level dry Rieslings a run for the money, but highlights the lifted and elegant exotic characteristics of Riesling only found in this part of the world. There’s a good first batch of it, but we expect it to quickly disappear. Everyone at The Source is happy to finally have German Riesling as a part of our portfolio once again, and we’re so lucky it’s this one! Two of Wechsler’s famous German Riesling crus, Kirchspiel on the left and Morstein on the right. France Rodolphe Demougeot Rodolphe Demougeot’s 2018s and 2019s have both arrived on our French container, and a double-up of Burgundy vintages on the same shipment has never happened for us before (Duband’s incoming wines will repeat the phenomenon!), but we have no choice if we want to get back on track with the normal release schedule and without missing anything. Demougeot’s wines are extremely reliable—dare I say it, predictable, in the best possible ways: overall quality, very measured bandwidth, and no extremes. He has committed to organic farming since the early 2000s and shortly after that his interest leaned toward a sleeker wine profile. This is great news for his 2018 reds, which don’t follow the vintage’s trend of heavier weight. All the wines remain aromatic, with ripeness kept in check and a much higher degree of fresher fruits than can be found throughout much of the Côte d’Or in 2018. 2019 red Burgundy is also a fuller year with perhaps a touch of redder fruit in the mix with the dominant darker fruit notes. The vintage is touted yet another great, but it’s very early to know how great it might just be. In any case, there is plenty of freshness to be found with Demougeot’s wines (as with Duband’s 2019s) and we feel fortunate to have Demougeot on our team; he fits in perfectly. Inside Pommard's Grande Combe, Les Vignots sits on the upper slope in the middle of the picture and the premier crus, La Chanière and Les Arvelets, lower on the slope and in the foreground. Domaine Chardigny Despite their very successful first vintage in 2016, the movement in overall quality of the wines crafted by the brotherhood at Domaine Chardigny has known only one direction: up. Initially, Pierre-Maxime and Victor Chardigny took the reins from their father, Jean-Michel, a French cartoon-character-of-a-man, with his exaggerated French accent, sweetness, accommodating nature and perennial smile. Then the middle brother, Jean-Baptiste, who spent quite a few years as the vineyard manager for Joseph Leflaive’s biodynamic Mâconnais domaine after he finished enology school, finally rejoined the ensemble of this joy-filled family. The quality from the Chardigny boys in the 2019 and 2020 vintages is a notably different level than their first three vintages, 2016-2018, which is partly due to the better balance of these seasons compared to the previous ones, but even more so to their rapid development as winegrowers. Despite the rise in quality of their Beaujolais wines, it’s Chardigny’s white Burgundies that have made the greatest strides. We have taken a stronger position with their Saint-Véran “Vieille Vignes” (from 50-year-old vines) and Saint-Véran “Bois de Fée”, named after the hill itself, facing directly south toward Beaujolais and on the other side with Saint-Amour and Juliénas in view. It’s right at the divergent point of the acidic igneous and metamorphic rocks of France’s ancient Massif Centrale and the limestone and clay that begins precisely at the bottom of Bois de Fée and moves north into Burgundy. What was missing in the past—the complete package from bright fresh notes balanced with the charm and roundness of good white Burgundy—has come into full view with these two. While Côte d’Or whites continue to vault further out of reach for those of us on a wine budget (yes, I too stick to a “realistic” budget despite my fortunate access), these wines raised for a year in 500-liter to 228-liter oak barrels are even more valuable to Chardonnay seekers with a great appreciation for Old World wine. Victor Chardigny thiefing their 2020 Saint-Amour À la Folie 2019 Beaujolais is a wonderful vintage reminiscent of the early 2010s. The fruit is redder and the wines less sun-drenched than 2015, 2017 and 2018. There are certainly many successes to be had between 2017 and 2018, but we are happy to see this more familiar face of Beaujolais once again. Chardigny’s 2019 Saint-Amour Clos du Chapitre continues to dazzle with its trim figure and subtler notes than its counterpart, the 2019 Saint-Amour À la Folie. À la Folie has won over so many with its unabashed, bodacious curves, middleweight texture and big but trim flavor. It was always the greater potential production between these two Saint-Amour crus and was the one they ran most of their experiments on with different aging vessels between concrete, stainless steel, foudre, and small oak barrels (called fûts de chêne, or simply fût, in Burgundy). In 2020, the boys—they all always have such boyish charm, just like their father—really figured this wine out. Tasted out of barrel with Victor and Pierre-Maxime this summer, the 2020 Saint-Amour “À la Folie” was stunning. I asked to taste more barrels to see if it was only the first that was so glorious, and all were the same emotionally invigorating experience. More precise and gorgeous than ever before, all the barrels felt more like Burgundy than Beaujolais! There is a new bottling from the Chardignys that we will begin to import with the 2020 vintage labelled Beaujolais-Leynes, named after their hometown. It’s a Beaujolais-Village appellation wine sourced from vineyards at the previously mentioned geological convergence between Beaujolais and Mâconnais. It’s made entirely with carbonic fermentation with 100% whole clusters in concrete and stainless steel with almost no intervention over its two-week fermentation. Given the shortage of fabulous Beaujolais at affordable price points, we’re bringing in more of this wine to try to fill some of the massive demand. It will easily fall into the right range for many restaurant by-the-glass programs and should hit wine retail shelves at only a hair over $20. For organically certified Beaujolais from a small domaine, that’s a steal. You’ll see…
That question again... Is it possible by taste to assess what type of bedrock and soil a wine comes from? I am aware that extensive, abstract or technical wine writing doesn’t usually sell wine, but I don’t care. I view short, oversimplified marketing strategies with catchy, punchy and clever comic book-style writing too short and shallow, word salads that don’t mean much, only intended to attract attention. I prefer the longer form with wine because wine is not a small subject, unless you are a beginner or just drink it because you like it and nothing more; I wish sometimes I could do that too! Short form writing is the same as a quick wine tasting, while the long form is the exploration of wine as one drinks a bottle and really digs in. Many of you subscribe to us because we sell delicious wines made with sound philosophy, practice and a lot of heart, but also because we continue to adventure deeply into the conversation of this utterly fascinating subject. With this offer, I want to share something with you that (like many others in our field) I can’t seem to get enough of. That is, the search for clues to the currently not fully understood organoleptic link between wine and the composition of its bedrock and topsoil. Science can’t yet explain all the processes for what makes a wine taste the way it does, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t possibilities to be considered; we just haven’t found the answers to everything yet. But when we do find answers, will it diminish the thrilling mystery of wine? When one mystery is solved, another will inevitably emerge. So we’re safe to share our ideas outloud, even if they are not completely right; exploration and searching are always at least half the fun! In what I hope will be the first in a series of offers that follow a specific theme, today we focus on wines that grow on landscapes developed more than three hundred million years ago. They come from a world we would hardly recognize today, a time long before the dinosaurs: The Pangaean Era. A Short Preface to the Wines Each of these wines comes from land formed in what geologists refer to as the Variscan orogeny. This mountain building event took place 370 million to 290 million years ago and formed an ancient chain of mountains that connected North America to Eastern Europe and were likely comparable in size to today’s Himalayas. Now they are squat, rounded and extremely short by comparison after hundreds of millions of years of erosion. These mountains were formed during the collision of two supercontinents, Gondwana and Laurussia, and once connected they formed Earth’s last supercontinent, Pangaea. The remnants of this ancient belt-like chain of mountains is connected to today’s ten wines that come from Spain and Portugal’s Iberian Massif, France’s Armorican and Central Massifs, as well as central and eastern Europe’s Bohemian Massif. All of the land that separates these massifs today developed over the last two-hundred million years as Pangaea broke apart and the Earth’s seven continents drifted to where they today. There is no doubt that a wine’s bedrock and soil composition influences certain elements of taste. We can start with the soil’s grain size, meaning whether it’s clay, silt, sand, gravel or a mix. This aspect of the soil imparts a different shape to the wine, which we sometimes describe somewhere between angular and round, or vertical and horizontal. It’s commonly accepted that sandier soils typically veer wines toward elegance and lift, where clay-rich soils make them more broad and muscular. This is an influence of soil grain, not as much as what the soil is derived from. A wine’s palate-weight and the strength of where it finishes with the most intensity and length appears to be more often associated with its bedrock and soil composition, especially if there is a particularly dominant rock type, like a limestone, granite, schist or slate. This is where we will focus on in this somewhat short essay. With today’s current trend of less is more in the cellar, the perception of these characteristic traits from specific rock types has become even more evident to those who spend time observing this particular characteristic of a wine. Indeed this seems like some seriously advanced wine assessment, but once the concept is grasped, it’s digestible. Don’t worry, you’re going to get this. That said, there is one little tedious technical detail that needs to be addressed before we get started. That is that there are two basic categories of igneous rock: intrusive and extrusive. Both were once liquid magma, but an intrusive rock slowly cooled below the earth’s surface, while an extrusive rock was expelled by volcanoes and cooled on the earth’s surface quickly in minutes, hours or days. The resulting wines from these two igneous rock types are extremely different, and volcanic wines have been excluded from today’s conversation, because most volcanic rock on the earth’s continental crust appeared there after the time of Pangaea, and it tends to influence wines quite differently than intrusive igneous rocks, like a granite or gabbro. Finally the Wines! Intrusive Igneous Rock Whites Our first wine is close to home—literally… I live about ten minutes from Quinta do Ameal, which sits along the Lima River in Portugal, a magical place where our dream to live in Portugal started. Ameal’s Pangaean connection is the Iberian Massif, and we are located in the far northwestern area of Portugal, inside the Lima Valley of the Vinho Verde, the latter is Portugal’s coldest wine region, and the former it’s coldest subzone. The bedrock and topsoil at Ameal is 100% granite, an intrusive igneous rock. Granite wines are almost always front loaded in the palate, no matter where they’re from. And you can especially feel this palate pressure about fifteen seconds after you swallow the wine and observe the finish. Granite imparts elegance to its wines and a lot of salty freshness too, which this wine has in spades. This is especially useful for grapes with naturally high acidity, like Loureiro, which constitutes the entirety of this wine. I’ve drunk my way through a lot of Portugal and quite a few of its good restaurants and have asked sommeliers and waiters for their suggestion on wines from the Vinho Verde region just to see what they have to say. Without exaggeration, if Quinta do Ameal is on the list, it is always recommended; and for the price and versatility it always wins. At Ameal, everything is carefully controlled and organically farmed. This wine is raised exclusively in stainless steel and goes with almost any kind of food, especially seafood, fish and full-flavored pork dishes— barbeque included. And it’s a wine for absolutely any occasion. There are only a few vineyard rocks I’ve held that are as heavy and hard as the gabbro found at Morandière's Muscadet vineyards, in the Loire Valley’s furthest west major region. Gabbro is an igneous rock, like granite, that was formed underground before it was plunged to the surface hundreds of millions of years ago with tectonic movements. By sight, the gabbro in his vineyard has a slightly green/grey cast and sometimes some faded white splotches. What it delivers to the wine is a tremendously dense core and front palate power on the finish, similar to what granite imparts. Muscadet is a cold region and is part of France’s Armorican Massif, named after pre-Pangaean mash up when Gondwana and Laurussia played a rough game of bumper plate tectonics with the smaller floating continent Armorica sandwiched in the middle, forming a long, crumpled up, snake-like mountain range. During this period the vineyard land of Muscadet used to be connected by land to the Vinho Verde, through northern Iberia, and there are similarities between the way these wines feel—especially in the palate aftermath once you’ve swallowed the wine. The grapes from these regions are very different; both are super fresh, but the Loureiro is extremely lithe but angular, while the Melon de Bourgogne, the grape in Muscadet, often carries more density, texture and deep mineral and metal characteristics; but the mark of their similar bedrocks is evident, leaving pressure on the front palate of the finish. Metamorphic Rock Whites The Bohemian Massif, another Variscan remnant, is what makes Austria’s Wachau river gorge special. The Danube River carved out this narrow, picturesque gorge now covered in steeply terraced vineyards atop soft, short riverbanks filled with vines and small villages. If it weren’t for the Danube slicing through this area, it would be a very different geological setting—a continuation of the relatively flat plateau covered in forest next to the Pannonian plain toward the east. The Danube exposed, gneiss, a beautiful metamorphic motherrock with colorful earthtone mineral bands that give the impression of a bunch of strings bunched up, compressed together and turned into rock. Tegernseerhof's Superin vineyard is planted to Grüner Veltliner and sits just next to the Danube, though not on a terrace. It’s in a unique position compared to other vineyards down by the river in that it's butted up against a hard gneiss outcrop that the village, Durnstein, was built on. As the river rushed by, it stripped the topsoil from the rock, leaving a shallow covering of river sediments on top of this gneiss bedrock. Here, in classic Tegernseerhof style (mineral, crystalline and pure), we jump into the metamorphic wine world. Unlike the first two wines, this one digs deeper in a way that, as the famous Chilean soil scientist, Pedro Parra, says: “it drills into your back palate.” While the igneous rock wines hits hard and continues to weigh heavily on the front palate after the wine is gulped down, here it rests on the side and back palate, often leaving the mid- and front-palate finish nearly non-existent by comparison to what an intrusive igneous rock imparts. Continuing on with another metamorphic white wine, we jump back over to the Armorican Massif, not too far east of Muscadet, and into likely the oldest exposed rock formation in France—at least according to Patrick Baudouin, the maker of this wine who, like me, spends a lot of time shooting the breeze about minerals, smashing rocks and sipping wines with geologists and asking too many questions. Here we find some pretty nice schist, a metamorphic rock formation about five hundred million years old. Baudouin's Coteaux du Layon "Les Croix" is an organically farmed vineyard within a complex valley stitched together with a wide variety of rock formations, largely from volcanic and metamorphic origin. I don’t know what it is with these metamorphic rocks, but they also make wines especially salty and with strong impressions of metal even more than mineral; the grape, Chenin Blanc, is a fabulous transmitter of terroir and really lets these features fly. Put a Baudouin Chenin from the Layon or Savennières, next to a Chenin grown on a limestone terroir just toward the east, in Saumur, and if you don’t know Chenin well, you may not believe that they are even the same grape, let alone grown so close to each other. Like other wines grown on metamorphic bedrock and soil, Patty’s salty and fresh Les Croix drills into the back and side of the palate, especially on the finish, somehow leaving you quenched while at the same time still wanting your next sip. Intrusive Igneous and Metamorphic Rock White Last for the whites today is the 2018 Bodegas Paraguas "Atlantico." Here we have a blend of different motherrocks, and you’re going to feel it. We’re back to the Iberian Massif, more specifically the Galician Massif in northwestern Spain, and a wine region I believe to be one of the greatest future prospects in all of Europe, the Ribeiro. Why such a seemingly cavalier claim for this mostly unknown wine region? We’ll get to the geology, but first we have to note its history as one of Spain’s most celebrated wine regions of yesteryear (the other being Rioja, which never fell out of favor) before more than a century long series of problems, listed here (in order to the best of my knowledge): powdery mildew, phylloxera, downey mildew, WWI, Spanish Civil War, dictatorship, WWII, continued dictatorship, post-war industrialization and the abandonment of the countryside by poor farmers in search of work within nearby bigger cities. From a geological standpoint, the Ribeiro has no limits to its potential with its blend of a wide range of metamorphic and igneous rocks. And in the three parcels that make up this wine we have a blend of schist and granite. Taking into account where these wines strike and remain with pressure on the palate (intrusive igneous in the front, metamorphic in the back and on the sides) you can imagine the level of impression on this wine. It’s more diverse but still strong on the palate, making for a wine with more dimension in some ways than the others. That doesn’t make it better, it just makes it different and perhaps more full and rounded, and without dominance of either schist or granite. The primary grape here is Treixadura, one that lends itself to more richness and softer acidity. I guess one could say it’s kind of like the Chardonnay of Galicia, but if it’s not managed well in the vineyard it can lose its freshness more quickly; but at Paraguas it’s done quite right and surprisingly taut for this grape. If you buy this mix of ten wines, try this one after you’ve gone through the other whites so you are more familiar with the way the individual rock categories feel in the palate before you get the one-two punch here. Intrusive Igneous & Metamorphic Rock Red Continuing on with the igneous and metamorphic vineyard mix, and because our first red is from the Ribeiro and extremely elegant, I put Cume do Avia's Colleita 6 as the starter in the lineup of reds. The vineyard for this wine is not far from Paraguas, deep inside the Galician Massif. As mentioned in the last white, many factors are at play in the Ribeiro. But there is also the proximity of the land to the Atlantic, the constant whistle of fierce winds that bring in fresh air and help grapes to stay somewhat dry in this pest-rich environment. And of course, there is the richness in diversity of the bedrock and topsoil composition. The bedrock and topsoil in Cume do Avia’s vineyards add great breadth to their wines and from one meter to the next they can quickly alternate. Here you’ll find a kaleidoscope of different intrusive igneous rock, metamorphic schist and slate. The soil grain is equally diverse and randomly shifts back and forth between sand and clay. The soils are dark orange, white or brown, depending on the mineral makeup. It’s an extremely complex area within only twenty-two acres. What is incredible about this wine made principally from the grapes Brancellao, Caiño Longo and Souson, is that it is so sleek, elegant and low in alcohol (11%) and looks like it won’t feel or taste like anything, but nothing could be further from the truth. When this wine hits your palate, and the weight of all we spoke about—the front palate from the intrusive igneous rock, the side and middle of the metamorphic rock, and now all the different grains of soil from sand to clay—flood the palate with an unexpected weight and pressure, like you have a mouthful of buckshot (the small metal balls inside shotgun shells) resting on all points of your mouth with the added electricity that metal brings to the tongue. It’s really quite fascinating how this level of complexity happens with such a humbly-priced wine, but for me these elements point to the rock medley the grapes are grown in. Metamorphic Rock Reds We have two wines on this offer from Breogan Rodriguez, the one-man show at Terra Brava. Breo’s wines come from three hectares of steeply terraced vineyards in the Amandi sub-region of Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra, on Spain’s ancient Galician Massif. The vines face south and southwest on shallow decomposed gneiss and slate terraces with topsoil derived from the bedrock and kept in place by the terraces. Cool air from the Atlantic and warm air from the Mediterranean influences the climate, creating a tug of war that usually brings beautiful balance to the growing season. However, this is extreme wine country in every way—hot summer days, cold nights, heavy rains, unexpected hailstorms in the summer, etc. And it’s the most fun place to bring someone who hasn’t been there before to hear the gasps and oohs and ahhs as you drop into the gorge from seemingly a mildly hilly country road—just like many of the entry points to Germany’s Mosel River Valley. It’s an impressive place and it’s impossible to capture the literally breathtaking intensity of it in a photo. I admire Breo and his fine craftwork in the cellar and organic practice in this extreme and sometimes brutally harsh work environment. Terra Brava's "Xastre" could easily be mistaken for a wine from France’s Northern Rhône in taste, were it not for this mix of indigenous Galician grapes that bring their unique stamp unlike any others outside this part of the Iberian Peninsula. This is no surprise because most (some would say all) of the best vineyards in the Northern Rhône Valley are remnants of Pangaea's Variscan mountains. They share a similar geological history and makeup, with their intrusive igneous and metamorphic rocks. This wine, made of 85% Mencia, is seductive with fresh berry and earthy nuances along with a natural propensity for being a strong transmitter of mineral and metal impressions, associated with the bedrock it's grown in. The textural grit is expansive and the pressure of the finish is clearly weighted in the back and side palate on the finish. The next wine is the Terra Brava "Lagar do Breo." It’s made with 95% Caiño Longo, an indigenous grape specific to this area of the Iberian Peninsula that will catch your full attention with the first taste. It can be freakishly acidic for a red wine, but it delivers a full range of complexity that is undeniably noble, and somehow balanced. This must be the most overlooked mega-talent on the list of the world’s great grapes, at least from what I’ve tasted. I guess one could criticize Caiño Longo for not being so subtle, but the wine as a whole can be layered for days and may in the future stand tall next to the world’s elite grapes. There is some kind of beautiful rage inside Caiño Longo and its naturally high acidity hums like an overhead power line, much like a Chenin Blanc from the hill of Brézé, in France’s Loire Valley. And, like a great Côte Rôtie or Cornas that shares some likeness to this wine, you must take your time to see all it has to offer, and you surely will have the same effect on the finish of the wine's mid and back palate. There are layers and layers to discover here and given that there are so few wines made with almost 100% Caiño Longo, it would be a waste (but not entirely) to gulp it down and not give it the time to fly as high as it will go. Finally, we jump to Beaujolais. We are now entering France’s Massif Central, home to so many great wines of France. I saved Thevenet for last in the discussion because of the power of the 2015 vintage. Sure, 2015 has its detractors because of this power, but when we speak about balance, it can exist on all levels, whether gentle and soft, or brutally strong. 2015 Beaujolais is no exception to this. It is indeed a vintage of impressively high natural acidity and higher alcohol than usual, but it also has a profound well of complexity that could help its wines ride as far and long as any vintage before it. The detractors? They are mostly Beaujolais drinkers newer to the game in search of wines that must be under 13% alcohol to be worthy of their appreciation. Sadly, this perspective pretty much shuts the door on many of the world’s epic red wine regions. Wine’s diversity, not its uniformity, is what keeps it interesting. So, we finish with two Gamay wines in Beaujolais grown not more than a few kilometers away from each other, same grape, weather, vinification in old oak barrels, cellar aging, low SO2 regimen and organic farming, but different bedrock and dirt. I’ve not found greater confusion about the geological composition of any other famous wine spot than the Côte du Py. I’ve been on the hill with the geologist Brenna Quigley, talked with winegrowers, looked at everything I can find on the Internet with very little consensus. There are a lot of different explanations that include igneous intrusive or extrusive (volcanic) rock, and metamorphic rock; it’s most often referred to as either a schist (metamorphic rock) or andesite (an extrusive igneous rock, so a volcanic rock formation). Recently I asked Brenna what her general conclusion is for the Côte du Py. Her safe bet is to say that it is likely a mix of meta-diorite (the "blue granite" people refer to), meta-basalt and likely some granite; so likely dominated by metamorphic rock. The Côte du Py is a rounded, freestanding lump of a hill with these rocks scattered about ranging in color from orange to light and dark shades of teal. Important to note is that whatever the rock is, it's incredibly hard and the vineyards are often spare in topsoil, making for straight and powerful wines with more defined lines and a deeper core concentration than what is typically found from wines grown in granite. Wines grown on metamorphic bedrock showcase pronounced unique stony, mineral and deeply metal nuances in the aroma, taste and texture. The most palate impact with this wine rendered from 80+ year old vines is to be found toward the back and sides of the mouth—in the palate it has always felt more like a meta wine to me. Intrusive Igneous Rock Red There is no doubt whatsoever that granite completely dominates Thevenet's Morgon Vieilles Vignes vineyards. The mix comes mostly from vineyards in Douby, with semi-coarse, shallow topsoil and exposed bedrock on the north side of Morgon between the Côte du Py and Fleurie; and the lieu-dit, Courcelette, where his parcel is on soft, coarse beach-like granite sands. Much of these vineyards are on gently sloping aspects ranging from southeast to southwest. There are also rocky sections where the bedrock pokes out, but generally the vineyards are fine-grained to coarse sands. This leads to wines that exhibit elegance and subtlety, but are endowed with great length and complexity from its ancient vines that range between 85-150+ years old. If you’ve read this entire essay on these wines, it may seem redundant to say that you can expect a little bomb on the front palate and remains strong for a good length on the finish. That concludes this extremely oversimplified (though complex) idea that I have observed and discussed at length with wine lovers, wine specialists and scientists, for quite a few years now. I hope you enjoyed it and take the leap to give these wines a swirl. Thanks to MSc in Geology, Ivan Rodriguez, for his assistance on the geological story of Pangaea and the Variscan orogeny.
There are a lot of nice guys in the world, but few could be described as more genuinely nice than Brendan Stater-West. One might ask how a young American guy from Oregon with no winemaking history ends up in Saumur as the assistant vigneron to Romain Guiberteau, one of the most celebrated vignerons in the Loire Valley. It started with a job in a Parisian wine store where Brendan first tasted a bottle of Guiberteau. Fortune brought the young man a wonderful French wife, and they moved to Saumur where he asked Romain for a job. Romain agreed, a move that proved to be beneficial for both. Instinctually driven in the styling of his unique expression of Chenin Blanc and self-regulated by great humility and openness of process, Brendan has the right ingredients to become a terrific vigneron. If his beautiful first vintage is any indicator, you’ve been given fair warning. His current boss and mentor, Romain Guiberteau, helped Brendan launch his domaine in 2015 by leasing him a single hectare of land next to Romain’s famous lieu-dit in the town of Bizay, Clos du Guichaux. Continuing his string of luck, Brendan recently met a family from a line of vigerons with no heirs, who own an old cellar in Chacé, a town in the appellation of Saumur-Champigny. The family wished it to become an active cellar again. It appears that their wish will come true, as Brendan bought the property and has begun the process of renovating this ancient tuffeau cave and turning it into his own. Needless to say, things are looking pretty good for Brendan.
We can see the light, but we’re not out of the woods yet. One of the most important wine business headlines for us importers happened on March 6th, with the suspension of the tariffs on wine, among other products. The day the news dropped, a steady stream of messages from our producers flooded my phone, along with all my other receptacles of communication—the variety of which is head-spinning these days… The tariffs had kicked off a series of unfortunate events for many of us in the businesses of fine food and wine. While we’ve all eked out some wins, starting with the presidential election (I’ll be happy not to get more grief from our winegrowers about Trump!), followed by the surprisingly rapid distribution of Covid vaccines in the US—a stark contrast to what’s happening in the EU; here in Portugal they’re projecting that at this rate, people my age won’t get the vaccine until September. With the tariff suspension we can see the light, but we are far from out of the woods. Naturally, after a couple steps forward there’s inevitably a step back: right now, containers outbound from Europe are so backed up that it’s basically impossible for any wines to run a proper route in decent time. Many shipments are scheduled to take two to four times longer than they normally would—another dinghy race with a broken paddle. Firsthand Europe News Sadly, some parts of the EU are struggling even more than expected right now, especially in the bigger countries, such as Italy and France, where there’s a resurgence that as of mid-March has forced them back into lockdown. Over here in Portugal, we had a startling uptick that went down just as fast, and now we are opening up after Easter weekend, along with Spain. As has happened in many places in the States, it’s been a rollercoaster in the EU; improvements as a result of draconian rule enforcement were undone by sudden and severely relaxed enforcement over summer, fall, and into the holiday season, all of which led to the massive and unchecked return of the curve. Restaurants have been completely closed here in Portugal, except for takeout, but in the countryside it’s not quite the same experience as in a city… Next week may possibly be my first restaurant-cooked meal since I had one in early October of last year, in Bologna, Italy—not a bad place to leave off. The Missing Links A strange reality for us in this extensive pandemic period is that some of the vintages allotted for the US have yet to make it over, and many may not make it at all. As an importer who tries to visit around 90% of our producers each year, these days I can feel a little lost with regard to how some of the new vintages of wines we’ve regularly tracked for more than a decade have currently evolved, from cellar aging to their current state, now that they’re in the bottle. This opportunity to know these kids while they’re young and undeveloped is a unique opportunity for perspective that gives us confidence (or not) about a wine’s future. We know that many of you share this sense of vacancy in the understanding of what’s really going on with many of the wines we’ve kept tabs on all these years—a vacuum of knowledge and experience for these latest vintages. Hopefully we can all catch up together soon and try to continue the streak of understanding our wines from one vintage to the next, and through many of the most formative years that help us with our outlook on where the wine may go based on where it’s already been. While it may seem that living in Portugal should’ve made it easier for me to get samples from our producers and try the wines, it’s not that simple. One doesn’t really propose to have wines shipped—even from producers who are great friends—knowing there is not yet an intent to buy… The only exception I’ve been able to make is with some of our Iberian wines whose makers are relatively nearby, and just a few of our most historical friends, like Arnaud Lambert. We’ve gone national! In California, recent developments seem promising and we hope that trend continues. However, it might come as a surprise to some that we’ve expanded our company outlook to a national platform. Toward the second half of last year, Rachel Kerswell, a beloved member of any wine community blessed with her presence, moved to New York, had a baby right as Covid started to take shape in the US, and then came back into the fold with some serious motivation to develop our national import agenda. Going national was never really part of the plan in the beginning, but Rachel asked for the shot so we could keep working together despite her move across the country, and we sure are glad we bet on her. We now work in nearly fifteen states, and our national portfolio has taken on quite a different focus compared to our California selection: it’s almost an even split between Iberia and France, with some solid Italian and Austrian wines. It really is exciting to progress in new directions, and I’m happy to report that all of our Spanish and Portuguese producers thus far (except Quinta do Ameal) are national exclusives for us. There’s a new geologist at The Source… I stayed quite busy during the pandemic with many other projects other than the daily effort of bailing water out of our company boat and plugging the holes with every finger and toe (with the help of a few deeply committed members who didn’t miss a day of work since the start of the pandemic). About six years ago, we began to work with geologist, Brenna Quigley, at the start of her now flourishing wine career. These days she’s focused on her fabulous podcast, Roadside Terroir, and along with her efforts at a number of California wineries where she helps them better navigate the ground they work to optimize their potential and encourage the voice of their terroirs. So for a while we had a vacancy in the position of resident geologist. In 2018, while fooling around inside the caldera of Basilicata’s famous extinct volcano, Monte Vulture, with the talented and scientifically astute brothers from Cantina Madonna delle Grazie, I finally had a phone call with a Spanish MSc geologist and PhD student from the University of Vigo, Ivan Rodriguez (pictured above), a guy whom I’d been stalking on the internet for a couple of months. Vigo is about a forty-five minute drive from where I live in Portugal, so the proximity was perfect. I was looking for another talented and young (I do prefer the open minds of young scientists), to help me continue to push my Sisyphean wine’s-relation-to-geology-curiosity-stone up the hill of nonstop roadblocks, curves and, sometimes, complete dead ends. I’ve not given up on trying to better understand the links between the wine and the rock, but I’ve begun to focus more on documenting information with greater accuracy so that maybe someone smarter and more talented than I am will be able to take real data and narratives that are peer-reviewed by historians, scientists and winegrowers, and make more sense of it. Upcoming Geological Map Series We have a series of geological maps that I developed with Ivan and Andrea (my wife), that we will begin to circulate soon. We started with the lower-hanging fruit of Galicia and Northern Portugal because of its lack of more in-depth coverage on the subject (at least in English), its need for illumination on its geology and grape varieties, and because it’s now my backyard and a major focus for our company. Some of the maps will have essays that go into greater depth on specific regions with mostly a technical vantage point. The maps may seem simple (by design), but they take a great deal of work to develop the finished products. Is anything actually going to arrive in April?? Yes! But we should’ve had a full boatload (literally) of wines arriving from Europe this month, but clearly haven’t received them due to all the massive delays. Some of the top-tier goodies include the 2017 vintage wines from Simon Bize, which I’ve tasted here, in Portugal, thanks to the Wasserman’s coordination with Chisa Bize to get some wine over to me to enjoy; it’s a truly breakthrough vintage for the Bize team with a slightly gentler disposition than the entire range had in the past few years since the passing of Patrick Bize. There’s also a big mix of vintages from Guiberteau as well as the wines of his partner-in-crime, Brendan Stater-West. There’s a lot more on order, but they probably won’t start to hit the warehouse until May. Making the rounds this month We’re extremely happy to add a new producer from Bramaterra, in the Alto Piemonte, to our roster of Italian gems. Our collaboration with Andrea Monti Perini (pictured above) has been in the works now for more than a year and a half, though we’ve obviously had a little trip-up along the way. (Most of our San Francisco and Los Angeles sales team visited this true garage-sized cantina exactly one week after landing in Milan on the Sunday the news broke about Italy’s pandemic surge!) Andrea, a one-man-show, is crafting perhaps the most understated and subtle Nebbiolo wines within his region; of course, this means that his wines could be a top contender for the most understated and elegant young Nebbiolo wines in all of Italy. The production is tiny (200-250 cases annually) and his winery project has barely hung in there after the devastating season last year when a major hailstorm left Alto Piemonte, particularly his area, just on the border of the Lessona appellation, in ruins. During our visit with many of the great cantinas of the Langhe (team visits for perspective with G. Conterno, Brovia, B. Mascarello, Burlotto, Cavallotto, and more) of the most compelling wines we tasted out of botte was Andrea’s 2019 vintage Bramaterra—simply stunning and an experience we dream about when we taste what many on our team consider the king of all Italian grapes. Around the end of the month, we are going to get a small dose of wines from Riecine, a historic, organic Chianti Classico producer located in the highest altitude zone of Gaiole in Chianti. It’s been a little crazy with these wines because the basic Chianti Classico often seems to evaporate by the end of their first month in stock. Why, you ask? Well, because it’s simply delicious and breaks out of the common must-add-food-to-fully-enjoy Chianti Classico mold. Riecine makes a more upfront fruity style with the entry-level wine, and then there is the Riserva (which isn’t on this container, though we should have it by the fall of 2021), cut from the from old-school cloth: deep, with a broad range of red and dark fruits, foresty, fresh, savory to the bone, and almost unbeatable with backcountry, high-altitude Italian cooking—think Sean Connery in tweed hunting quarry in the Alps. But, in this first offer of 2021 we have the two most sought-after wines in the range. First is Riecine di Riecine, a mean blind-taste for industry professionals because of its regal red-hued, high-on-the-slope Vosne-Romanée nose (minus any wood presence at all because it’s aged for three years in concrete eggs)—think Audrey Hepburn in a black turtleneck with light red lipstick. The other wine, La Gioia, is the most unapologetically delicious and voluptuous red in the range and has all the trimmings that drive tasters— those who want a lot of personality, curvature and sensuality in their wines—utterly mad; it does have a bit of newer oak too, but it wears it like Sophia Loren wore red dresses in the 1950s) utterly mad. Oh, and La Gioia and Riecine di Riecine are both 2016s! Quantities are very limited, but midway through last year I asked our friends at Riecine to hold some for us so we didn’t miss this gem of a vintage while we waited for things to begin to open up again. Lucky for us, these wines are almost here. In Portugal, we have another gem from Trás-os-Montes, Menina d’uva. The resident maker, Aline Dominguez (pictured below), a French native with Portuguese parents, found her way back to her parent’s familial countryside after years of extensive education in a multitude of universities along with experiences working wine bars in Paris and wineries in Burgundy. Her wines are a new take for the region, just as those from the nearby Arribas Wine Company (a new producer we just introduced last month with immediate success, i.e. overnight depletion of the single pallet of wine we had for the US), that follows the line of “natural trimmings,” but with more of a finishing touch to keep them from the funk often associated with wines made in this style. Strongly textured in the palate, the aromas are lighter and brighter, with some elements of reduction at first after opening, and this is by design, in order to enable her confidence with using much less sulfur than is often used with normal still wines. With some air and patience they deliver an authentic array of characteristics from this unique corner of Iberia. Aline is a special one. What the heck is happening in Chile and its Itata Valley?! There seems to be an explosion of interest in the area, and I’m happy to say that we got there early (thanks to my Chilean wife and our visits to her family over the years), and I think we have one of the very best in Leonardo Erazo, with his A Los Viñateros Bravos range of wines and his estate-owned vineyard wines bottled under the Leonardo Erazo label. Leo recently quit his activities working double time with his project as well as being the primary wine director for the Altos Las Hormigas project, which has a fully working program in Cahors, France, and another in Argentina’s Mendoza wine region. Leo’s Itata Valley wines were already superb, but with his full attention solely on his own project, it has truly found another level. Last year, Andrea brought home some of Leo’s wines from Chile for me to taste, which of course found their way to blind-tastings with a bunch of top winemakers in Galicia and Northern Portugal. I thought it would be interesting for them to blind taste wines (included in the mix were those of Pedro Parra’s delicious wines from Chile) grown on the same type of granitic bedrock and topsoil that many of these winemakers work on. Almost everyone guessed that these wines were Beaujolais—no surprise… Beaujolais is largely granitic too, just like many wine regions in Galicia and Portugal (same geologic era, too), and from some mineral and textural profiles they’re nearly identical. Don’t miss out on this new batch of Leo’s wines. They’re stunning, and for the price they’re unbeatable for terroir-driven wines that are superbly crafted and deliver a great amount of emotion and pleasure. New Producers On the Horizon I don’t know why this is all happening so fast (well I guess I do…), but we continue to amass almost an entirely new portfolio of exciting wines. In Spain, we’ve just snagged a great winery partnership in Navarra. Yes, I’m aware of the reputation of good-but-rarely-compelling wines from Navarra, but for good reason the guys over at Aseginolaza & Leunda have captured the attention of Spain’s new generation of growers, sommeliers, critics, and wine journalists. The recognition these two environmental biologists are getting is not surprising because they masterfully capture the essence of Garnacha (and other local, indigenous varieties) reminiscent of in-balance Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines of old, with a solid Spanish flare. This is exciting and authentic stuff, and doesn’t carry CdP prices. Others new Spanish additions mentioned in last month’s newsletter are Fazenda Prádio (Ribeira Sacra), Augalevada (Ribeiro), César Fernández Díaz (Ribero del Duero), and Bodegas Gordón (the wines of the famous Castilla y Leon steakhouse, El Capricho). Another next-generation Portuguese project is Quinta da Carolina, taken over by the son of the family winery, Luis Candido da Silva, one of the winemakers at Dirk Niepoort’s empire. A random search online for producers from the Douro led me to send Luis a message, while he had already been advised by the guys at Arribas Wine Company to contact me—serendipity! A lunch together at my place with a salt-roasted, wild Atlantic sea bass (called branzino in Italy, robalo in these parts) was knocked out of the park with the accompaniment of Luis’ off-the-hook Portuguese white wine, with its perfectly balanced mineral drive and Richard Leroy-scented reduction (but far cleaner, refined and completely measured), along with an Arnaud Lambert-like refinement and energy. I am certain that this white wine was the most compelling unfinished (at the time, bottled at the end of March) white wine I’ve tasted in Portugal. However, the majority of the production is a range of reds that maintain that wonderfully cool, slatey mineral and metal freshness on the palate. Once Luis took over the family estate just five years ago (although he’s been working in the vineyards since he was eight), organic conversion began and all the wines started their baby steps backward in alcohol and extraction—a wise move to not upset the family with too dramatic a change so quickly, and a good long-game strategy to not have the age old tension between father and son come into play. There are wines that are experimental, but most are more in the vein of the classically-styled European wines with a lot of personality from both the terroir and its cellar and vineyard master. His wines will be a welcome balance to our Portuguese collection. Falkenstein, perhaps Italy’s most famous Riesling producer, has been on my radar since I first tasted a Riesling about eight years ago over dinner with Matilde Poggi, from Le Fraghe winery, in northeast Italy, near Lago de Garda. Matilde is the rare producer who doesn’t just taste her own wines during a meal with her customers, but also pours other inspiring juice. I was smitten at first smell and taste; the wine bore the mark of a familiar bedrock type that immediately transported Donny (the co-owner and co-founder of The Source) and me to Austria’s Wachau. To test our theory, Matilde phoned Franz Pratzner, her good friend and Falkenstein’s visionary, to ask about the bedrock. We were right: these wines are as much Austrian in style as they are Italian in the sense that the bedrock is indeed mostly gneiss and other hard metamorphic rocks; and not surprisingly, Pratzner worked for some time in Austria’s Wachau wine region, too. Even better news is that the Pratzners have now worked organically for some years, which clearly upped their game to another level, and I’ve continued to drink the wines every time I have seen them on Italian wine lists over the years. Stylistically, think of the Wachau’s Veyder-Malberg Brandstatt Riesling for purity, mineral characteristics and freshness, with the gusto of a dry Rheingau Riesling from one of Robert Weil’s top sites. For all of us on the sales side (both wholesale and direct to consumers), Riesling indeed remains a labor of love. That said, we’re extremely excited that we have the opportunity to represent this family’s seeming mastery of Riesling along with other great surprises in their range, like their gorgeously compelling Pinot Noir (this wine you’ve got to taste!) as well as their other whites, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon, which are enriched with the same backbone, mineral drive and electricity as the Rieslings. Staff favorites from March 2018 Mittelbach, Federspeil Grüner Veltliner by Leigh Readey, Santa Barbara My first introduction to Grüner Veltliner was around 2009 while I was selling wine for a different company who partnered with a small Austrian importer. In Santa Barbara, I was mostly knowledgeable about (and drinking) classic California grapes, and my tastebuds were blown away by this not-so-fruity and spicy dry wine. With Grüner you can still have a multitude of expressions within a relatively modest price range. I’ll find myself drinking an array of wines but then realize I’m missing something. Then I remember... Grüner. And I realize that’s exactly what my palate is craving. When I found out that we were bringing in a Wachau Grüner from fifth generation winemaker Martin Mittlebach (pictured above) of Tegernseerhof that retailed for around $20, I already loved the wine without even tasting it. This wine delivers the spice in the form of Asian pear and cracked pepper, and the citrus is all things lime and lemony, lemonheads, preserved lemon, and lemon zest. The textural sensation is an experience, the acid so lively it dances around your tongue. It’s become my go-to wine, pairing extremely well with my plant-based diet. This is such a pure expression of Grüner that if it had been my first introduction to the grape, the bar would have been set very high. 2017 Demougeot, Pommard, 1er Cru Charmots, Le Coeur des Dames by Donny Sullivan, The Source co-founder and General Manager Anyone who is fascinated with Burgundy or has had an exceptional bottle of it will find great appreciation for this pick. It’s a true standout that stood tall in a tasting over a year ago, upon the wine’s release, and was considered by many to be the top wine of the day. I have touted the humble and quietly brilliant Rodolphe Demougeot as one of the best hidden-gem producers in the prized Côte d’Or, for years. It’s partially because he is not on the board with top cru vineyards, though his address in Meursault sits amongst some of the biggest names in Burgundy. And he’s not the kind of guy that’s gonna be tootin’ his own horn, so he stays quietly known by those who know. He’s a reserved man who lets his wines speak for themselves and although they don’t shout at full volume, they communicate with intense clarity, detail, meaning, and authenticity. The tastings I’ve had in Demougeot’s cellar remain some of my greatest experiences in Burgundy. Every time I leave the cellar I think to myself, “How could the rest of the world not already know of and covet these wines? I am so fortunate.” Although he doesn’t have a full lineup of top crus, he has this one, his best, and it’s nothing shy of one of the finest parcels of land for Pinot Noir in all of the Côtes de Beaune. Pommard, often known for more sturdy or even harder wines, Charmots is somewhat wedged into a valley crease, where access to water and limestone bedrock is more substantial and in balance with the clay topsoil. This vineyard offers, as suggested by its name, a very charming, expressive and beautiful wine contrary to Pommard’s generalized reputation. Les Coeur des Dames (The Ladies’ Heart), Demougeot’s monopole lieu-dit inside of the Charmots premier cru, is the crown jewel of the domaine and is handled with exceptional care. For many years now it has been plowed by horse and worked by hand with only a minimal intervention of organic or biodynamic treatments. The concentration and intensity in its lifted, somewhat lighter-bodied and fine-tannin structure deliver the juxtaposition we seek in great wines. The spectrum, precision, weave and evolution of aromas is intoxicating, as are the bevy of flavors on both the savory and sweet side of the palate. This wine offers a huge opportunity to food, and to the patient and contemplative taster. Sometimes the stars simply seem to align, and while Demougeot’s cellar has a sky full of constellations, this one is exceptionally easy to pick out! 2018 Christophe et Fils, Chablis By Jon Elkins, Cayucos (Central Coast) California Sharing so many great wines from Europe with my restaurant and retail customers is always a joy. Many of them haven’t really been shown a wide selection of imports, and I love to be the bearer of enlightenment. One of my absolute favorite consultations is the one where I help the buyer choose which of the Chablis producers that I present suits their business the best. Of course I’ve made up my mind as to which direction they should take, but it’s really up to them to decide. There are more than a few things to consider, such as the cuisine; is it forward, minimal, simple but sublime? Or, is it classic, complex, rich and comforting? What’s the vibe like in the dining room? Who are the clients? Recently I found the ideal restaurant to offer the 2018 Christophe et Fils Chablis. The wine buyer is also the chef and it is especially fun for me to present a wine the way a chef would construct a dish, breaking it down into its components and discussing how and why they work so well together, and I find this wine to be so much like a dish that I really want to eat. Sebastien Christophe creates a Chablis that is remarkable in its restraint, its subtlety, its demure elegance, and yet because these characteristics are so thought-provoking, the wine leaves a powerful impression. These same characteristics are what makes the wine such a pleasure to pair with a dish composed in the same fashion. The wine has great clarity, with just the faintest tinge of golden-green hue that shines for you as you swirl it in your glass, the color is that of freshly pressed Chardonnay that never deepened beyond that process. The aromas are all classic Chablis, at their freshest, their most lovely. That flinty wet stone. It’s there, but it’s not so overtly developed to be the first thing you notice, and all the other expected mineral components are present, including crushed oyster shells and fine sea mist, hints of chalky coastal bluffs. The texture is very much alive with that same sort of sea salt and mineral-tinged acidity that escorts the fruit across your palate. The fruit component of this wine? Well, it’s Chardonnay. It tastes like really fine, well-raised Chardonnay from brisk Chablis vineyards. It’s odd to have so much to say about a wine, but when you get to the part about all the expression of various fruit components, there just aren’t loads of comparisons to make. It is what you’d expect, a bit of that just-a-moment-away-from-ripe apple, a bit of lemon, a bit of lime. Together they form a very delicate and lithe little lemon drop candy that sits itself right in the center of your tongue. Savory components, herbs like fresh lemon thyme bring an earthy note. Then a very familiar Chablisienne bitter, almost unripe green almond component comes through on the finish. It’s quite classic, but quite modern in its interpretation. The chef was inspired and prepared a little nibble for us. A crudo of scallops with a splash of a very light and gingery ponzu, a sprinkling of pulverized lemon grass, and just a bit of Thai chili and lime zest. I thought that Christophe et Fils was probably the right choice for this restaurant. Oh yes. ■
Saint-Aubin vineyard facing Chassagne-Montrachet (maybe En Remilly?) Containers are finally landing As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, wines from Hubert Lamy, Simon Bize, Guiberteau, Brendan Stater-West, and Justin Dutraive are here. Due to the unpredictable delays at the port, Berthaut-Gerbet’s 2018s will unexpectedly arrive in June ahead of many others that were ordered a month earlier! The quality of Amelie Berthaut’s wines continue their ascent, and 2018 will be no exception. As usual, quantities are especially limited on all the wines except the first three Fixin in her range: the Fixin appellation wine, and the two lieux-dits, Les Clos and Les Crais. Also on the docket are a few Italian goodies. Poderi Colla’s 2017 Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose is still the Barolo to beat for classically-styled wines with higher tones and a trim but substantial palate feel and structure. While in very close proximity, there is often some separation between Barolo and Barbaresco in overall style and level of success in each vintage. For any of you who already experienced Colla’s 2017 Barbaresco and its beautiful Nebbiolo perfume and quick-to-evolve tannins that everyone is ready for with this vintage, the 2017 Barolo is right in the same line. It was a warmer year, especially toward the end, which these days just means delicious earlier on with producers like Colla, whose sharp winemaker, Pietro Colla, appropriately adapts the program by working around any specific “recipe winemaking” agendas when the grapes are received. It also helps that his father, Tino, carries the family’s three hundred years of passed-down knowledge about how to manage the vineyards to achieve great results no matter what Mother Nature throws at them. And once again, the critics acknowledged the consistency of the work these days at the cellar and have rewarded them with complimentary reviews that continue to demonstrate Colla’s knack for consistency and reliability. Riecine’s 2016 single site wines (Riecine di Riecine and La Gioia) are here too. It’s a vintage not to miss from the team at Riecine. Once Alessandro Campatelli was given the reins to do as he felt he needed, starting with the very clever move to bring back Carlo Ferrini, the enologist who put Riecine on the map in the 1970s and 80s. He also completely removed any new wood from the Riecine di Riecine wine and went all-in on concrete eggs for three years of cellar aging to preserve and also showcase all that beautiful fruit supported with nuances of savory characteristics. La Gioia is the bombastic wine in the range with unapologetic big red fruit and a sappy palate. The team has a lot of fun with their work and it shows in the wines. Another real highlight is Chevreux-Bournazel (La Parcelle) is also finally reaching the shores of California. We’ve decided that we will call this Champagne “La Parcelle” because the pronunciation of the last names of Julien and Stéphanie are pretty difficult for most Americans. Rachel Kerswell, our National Sales Manager and New York Lead Salesperson, has the most experience with La Parcelle, outside of the many bottles I’ve been able to drink over the last two years here in Europe. My first taste was while I lived in the Amalfi Coast, in 2019. I asked Stéphanie to send some samples over, and there are few wines in the history of our company that were such obvious no-brainers to add to our list. Rachel has written a teaser on the wines, the allotment of which is extremely limited: 48 to 120 bottles of each of the three wines imported for the US. Champagne La Parcelle by Rachel Kerswell “Biodynamic rules seem simple for us. Working without chemical products, without mineral fertilization, without products in the wine and with life, with our animals, with the wild plants of our land, with cosmological influences …” – Stéphanie ChevreuxAmong the multitude of producers who have been looking beyond Champagne’s initial grower-producer movement—a movement of growers that began to break free of the big houses and to produce their own wines, typically focused on single plots—are two young and enthusiastic winemakers, Stéphanie Chevreux and Julien Bournazel, of Champagne La Parcelle. Since their debut vintage in 2012, they have been laser-focused on a more homeopathic approach, not only in the vineyards, but in the cellar too. Upon the acquisition of their first vineyard, a 0.4 ha parcel on the Côteau du Barzy, Stéphanie and Julien immediately began the conversion to biodynamic practices, and to the naked eye it’s evident their land is happy and thriving. The cover crop is verdant with an array of wild thyme, carrots, tomatoes, fruit trees and all things life. The grapes are manually harvested during the cool, early morning hours, when it’s eleven to twelve degrees Celsius, before the short trip to their tiny cellar where they undergo a gentle press, followed by spontaneous fermentation in old tonneaux. Following the lunar calendar, battonage is performed regularly throughout the winter months to give the wines more “gras,” a welcome layer to balance the naturally high acidity. The wines are never racked (outside of the necessary moment just before bottling), filtered or fined, and SO2 levels are kept extraordinarily low (between 12-37 mg/L) and added just before bottling. 2017 La Parcelle, La Capella La Capella is a 0.38 hectare parcel on a very steep 45-degree slope planted predominantly to Pinot Meunier (90%). The vines are dense, at 5000-6000 per hectare, with small amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris interplanted throughout. Deep layers of clay cover chalky subsoils at the bottom portion of the slope, while silex (chert), marne and limestone dominate the upper slope, where you can find just 10cm of topsoil in some sections. The vineyard is situated in a small meander that gets some of the most intense and direct winds within the valley, likely contributing to the natural salinity, yellow citrus and wild herbs, supported by a substantially vivacious and linear palate. The dosage is 4g/L. 2017 La Parcelle, Connigis Connigis is Stéphanie and Julien’s second and, so far, latest acquisition. Luckily, it has never been touched by chemical treatments and has been thriving since they bought it in 2016. The subsoil of this southwest facing, 0.28-hectare parcel on a 30-degree slope consists of hard limestone, chalk and marne, and has deeper clay topsoil throughout compared to its counterpart, La Capella. It is protected by natural borders and therefore benefits from more temperate conditions, resulting in a wine that shows more opulence and roundness upfront. After about thirty minutes open, the palate begins to show a fine sea-spray salinity that balances out ripe orchard fruit aromas, keeping this wine straight and delicate. It is composed entirely of Pinot Meunier and finished without any dosage. 2018 La Parcelle, Côteaux Champenois We have anxiously anticipated this wine from Stéphanie & Julien since we began importing their wines two years ago. Their production hasn’t grown since they acquired their second parcel, so it’s been a give-and-take to bring it to life. The give is 850 bottles of 2018 Côteaux Champenois, while the take is from Cuvée Connigis, which will now be even less available than it has been previously. After the must from Cuvée Connigis is racked into bottle for the secondary fermentation, a portion is left in tonneaux for an extra ten months. This extra time in wood brings just enough finesse to balance the natural electrical charge of this purely Pinot Meunier Côteaux Champenois, while maintaining impeccable balance. Pre-phylloxera vines in the Carremolino vineyard of César Fernández July Arrivals We are expecting a slew of Spanish wines to make their way in. From Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra, Fazenda Prádio should be the first in line in July with a microquantity of his top red wine from 2018 called Pacio. Wines from Adega Saíñas, another Ribeira Sacra producer from one of the colder zones, will follow shortly after Prádio. We’ll have a very small reload on some wines from Manuel Moldes, which evaporated in the first rounds in the bag with our sales team in California and New York. César Fernandez will hit too. César is the guy I’ve talked about in the previous newsletters who spent the last five years working with Comando G, in Gredos. He’s definitely one to watch, but the quantities of his wines from Ribera del Duero are minuscule at twenty cases for the entire country. Fazenda Pradio vineyard in Chantada, a colder sub zone of Ribeira Sacra Arnaud Lambert’s wines will be resupplied in July. Arnaud is killing it with his entire range and it’s honestly hard to keep them in good supply. First in will be the new vintages of Saumur wines from Clos de Midi and Clos Mazurique, and the Saumur-Champigny Les Terres Rouges. He continues to set the bar for price/quality/emotion with all three of these, and we have some of the cru wines arriving in the following months. In the past it was an all-we-could-buy supply, but he’s become more famous now (I guess we shouldn’t have done so much promoting!), so while we still get a great allocation because we were the first to bring his Brézé wines into the US, the world has caught on and the demand is very high. Plan for these when they arrive, or you might be waiting another year for the next vintage to hit. Anne Morey, of Domaine Pierre Morey Pierre Morey’s 2018s will also arrive, and the white Burgundies that I’ve had so far from this vintage have been a great surprise. We often think about the relationship between red and white in the same year, but in 2018 the whites fared very well and not too far off the mark from the previous year. I recently spoke with Paul Wasserman about it and he shared that many vignerons have vacillated between different theories about why the wines are so fresh compared to the reds, like the influence of the high dry extract and a year that somehow favored tartaric acid much more than the usual proportion of malic, which made for very little acidity loss during malolactic fermentation. Also, the higher yield slowed ripening enough and may have created a better balance of phenolic maturity with fresher acidity, and, finally, as I’ve been mentioning for a few years now, the vines may be somewhat adapting to climate change. Lifelong Road Warrior I hit the road again for a long trip through Spain, France, Italy, Austria, and Germany the day after my birthday on May 25th and will return home to Portugal just before the third week of July. I’m going solo since my wife decided she doesn’t like these lengthy marathons anymore, which means lots of windshield time with my own thoughts, on my own timeline, things I’m rarely afforded. I think better when I’m walking or driving and often wish I could be writing at the same time! I’m surprised that I can even put together coherent stories (which is still debatable, anyway) having to sit still for hours at a time. I’ve always needed to keep moving, which made going to school six or seven hours a day and two hours of church every weekend hard for me. Which might be part of why I didn’t do any more of that stuff after I turned eighteen… As elementary school kids, my two older brothers and my sister, Victoria, the youngest (who’s worked with us at The Source since the beginning), and I would find ourselves in the back of mom’s early 80s maroon Chevy station wagon (a color choice of which I’ll never understand) driving from Troy, Montana, an extremely podunk, thousand-person mining town in the northwest of the state, down through South Dakota and on to Minneapolis where we’d sometimes stop to see our uncle, Tom. Our terminus was in Eagle Grove, Iowa, for weeks with our other, much older half-brothers, and the rest of mom’s side of the family. It was on one of these trips when we stopped once for the view at Mount Rushmore and the Badlands National Park that I discovered my interest in rocks. I always saved my money, which I mostly earned by sweeping the floor of my dad’s carpenter shop, for $0.10 an hour; I was clearly cheap labor, and seemingly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I spent every dime on little boxes with rocks glued to pieces of thick white paper, their names written below them, and every one of these were precious to me. They were my own personal little treasures that no one else seemed to care about. I especially loved fool’s gold, known in the science world as pyrite. It’s a beautiful mineral, worth nearly nothing, and more attractive to me than gold because I liked its angles and shine. Maybe I was a fool. Or maybe I just saw the value in things that others didn’t. We passed through the Dakotas and what at the time seemed to be a strange desert landscape to kids who grew up in thickly forested, mountainous Montana countryside with wildlife literally at the front door, and then on into the endless cornfields of Iowa and what the folk musician Greg Brown referred to as “butterfly hills” in his live version of Canned Goods, where the car would go weightless for a second like a boat hitting a big wave while we all screamed and laughed and sometimes got nauseous. They seemed to go on forever and we eventually calmed down as they lost their appeal. I once played that Greg Brown song for my mom and by the end of it she had tears streaming down her face; his stories about Iowa in the days after the last Great War really hit her hard. These eidetic on-the-road memories are also fleshed out by a playlist that included Neil Diamond, Pavarotti, Hooked on Classics Part 1 (and 2 and 3 and…), Julio Iglesias, and Willie Nelson, especially Willie’s song, On The Road Again. Also, too many Hall and Oates songs to recount amid a blur of DTV—Disney’s 80s cartoon version of MTV for kids. My mom was a true romantic, and I’ve come to understand that more as I’ve gotten older. The music on those trips is a unique mix for me, and when I spend time with my wife’s mother, Nancy, down in Santiago Chile, we sometimes get a little sauced together late at night and drift back with Spotify to those deeply nostalgic musical moments. Sometimes I have to fight hard to keep the alcohol-induced tears from welling up, and I think she does too. They were such innocent times when we were kids, when our parents were the age I am now, and I’m sure they’re part of the reason why I’m always ready for the next trip. I like to relive those moments in the back of that ugly station wagon with the backseat always down so we could fall asleep whenever we got tired. We had to play games all day to keep busy so mom could stay focused on these long drives of death. At nighttime on the road, out in the pitch-black countryside with only the car’s headlights and the stars above to light the sky, we would rub our heads against pillows to create static electricity to watch the sparks fly in the dark. My brothers are pretty far along in balding, and I’m not terribly far behind them. Maybe we unknowingly created electrolysis with those pillows… I don’t know how mom did it, but she’d sometimes drive 1,400 miles during endless summer days with these four unruly kids in the back, only stopping so we could go to the bathroom; other than Rushmore, there was hardly a stop along the route. Sometimes mom wouldn’t even make pit stops, she’d just pass back a cup for us to go in… Hungry? Drink a glass of water… She was pretty hardcore on trips, and some who’ve travelled with me on the wine route have accused me of being somewhere close to that—except that I have a lot more fun along the way and don’t hand over cups instead of a proper bathroom break. Sometime before mom passed away in 2017, while Andrea and I were on our honeymoon in Spain (there’s no good time for your mother to die), she made her final, long journey from California to Iowa in the middle of a winter storm, at age 78, alone. Afterward, she casually told us how she had been blown off the highway by a semi and into a ditch during a blizzard. It was freezing and a complete whiteout. She couldn’t see anything. Thankfully she was close to Iowa, so my oldest brother, Steve, went to get her out. Mom always excelled against unfavorable odds; I suppose having six kids in the world can be useful sometimes. Victoria was furious with her and made her promise not to do any more long trips alone. I don’t think she agreed to it, but it very soon lost its relevance, anyway. About the time this newsletter is published I will have just arrived in Barbaresco to stay at Dave Fletcher’s rail station turned winery. I will have already passed from Portugal across Spain’s Ribera del Duero and Rioja, up into western France’s Madiran for a visit with a very interesting producer (more on that later if everything works out!), across to the Langedoc to visit Julien and Delphine from Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette (always a mouthful to say that name), and a long overdue visit to my friends, Pierre and Sonya, and their massive Provençal country home outside of Avignon, known to the locals as Mas la Fabrique. Surely, I will have eaten loads of white asparagus during my two-day respite there before heading north to say hello to the Roussets, in Crozes-Hermitage. After La Fabrique and Rousset, I’ll have cut across the Alps, through the Mont Blanc tunnel, popping out into Italy’s Valle d’Aosta and over to Northern Piedmont to visit with our group of four producers there: Monti Perini, Zambolin, Ioppa, and the new one, Davide Carlone. My old friends Daryl and John, Willie, Luciano, and Greg will surely have made many appearances through my Spotify feed before reaching Alba. (I usually save Julio and Neil for those nights with Andrea and my mother-in-law.) You’ll get the rest of the trip’s scoop over the next two months when it starts to get even more interesting as I make my way through Lombardian foothills, Alto Adige, Austria, Germany and back through Champagne, Chablis, Cote d’Or, and finally Beaujolais to conclude my French leg. In the meantime, I’ll post a few things on our Source Instagram @thesourceimports, as well as my own, @mindfullofwine, about things I’m learning along my trip. Until then, drink well! You never know what your last glass will be until after you’ve had it. Better make them all good ones.■
If your wine world revolves around natural wines, wines of true terroir identity that are as unaltered as possible by the hand of the grower so as to remain pure, with high-tones, and vigorous, deep textures, then read on and get ready to buy. You won’t want to miss these. Cume do Avia’s wines are rare. Most of them are limited to just over a hundred bottles of each wine for the entire US market, and it wasn’t anticipated that we’d still have them in our inventory at this point. But Covid-19 has opened the door for you, and I am thrilled to introduce you to these wines if you don’t know them already. This lot that just arrived in California was transferred to us from our New York warehouse, where they barely missed their opportunity to put on a show in the Big Apple for some of the world’s most talented sommeliers running wine programs in the city’s best restaurants. Our California team’s 2018 allocation evaporated in days upon arrival and these wines certainly would’ve been long gone out east, too. The Wines at a Glance (A more in-depth write-up is further below) The Colleita Tinto is simply too good for the price. Its delivery is astounding and profound for those who like high-toned, low octane wines that drink as much like a white as they do a red. Brancellao is a grape that can render a wine as brightly hued as a glass of Campari and is the most seductive and elegant in the range. Caiño Longo, a bright red in its youth that can quickly take on a darker hue with only a little age, has an electrical charge and vigorous energy. The Viño Tinto Sin Sulfuroso is a marriage of red and black grapes and bottled without any added sulfur. It continues to surprise as it matures, and keeps getting better, despite its naked life free of sulfur. Their other red varietal bottlings available on our website, Sousón and Ferrón, are ink-black beasts, tight and trim, gritty and earthy and almost savage when young. Be forewarned, these last two wines must be experienced but they will not be for all takers, only those who don’t discriminate against unbridled energy, because they are that. All of the Cume do Avia wines are aromatically intense and have a mouthfeel full of tremendous freshness and intensity. Their range of red wines is a unique and exciting addition to the resurgence of the Iberian Peninsula’s many awakening wine giants. A short story and a deeper dive into the wines Constant Evolution On the narrative arc of our lives inside the wine world, some producers come along that redirect our compass. For me, the first was the legendary California Pinot Noir producer, Williams Selyem, whose wines I was able to drink with surprising regularity at a restaurant where I worked in Scottsdale Arizona back in the late 1990s. The chef and owner, Ercolino Crugnale, came out from California and brought his personal wine collection out to the middle of the desert, where he opened his own seafood restaurant. He planned to put his collection on his wine list, but once he got there, he was told that in order to legally do so, he would have to sell it to a distributor first so they could sell it back to him. Lucky for me, Ercolino decided we would drink it all together after dinner services instead. At Restaurant Oceana I was generously treated to so many of California’s best 80s and 90s wines from Ridge and all the names in California Cab, but it was the Williams Selyem Pinot Noirs that really made an impression on me. What came next was Jean-Marie Fourrier, with his 1999 vintage. I was spoiled by Fourrier's wines early on thanks to the late Christopher Robles. Chris carved out a massive allocation of Fourrier’s wines for the Wine Cask Restaurant, in Santa Barbara, where I ended up working as a sommelier, back when it had a list of more than two thousand carefully selected wines. There were many life-altering wines on that list during the year and a half I worked there, and we were drinking wines like Fourrier’s famous Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint-Jacques for a mere $57 a bottle after our employee discount, and it seemed we had an endless supply of the stuff. Now his Clos Saint-Jacques runs from three hundred to a thousand dollars a bottle, depending on the vintage. We had about a full mixed pallet of his entire range of wines from that truly great vintage that we soaked up daily, along with tons of the other best wines in the world generously allocated to Wine Cask. Once I became a wine importer, things changed drastically. I got to know my heroes personally, which upped my game considerably from those years as a wine-country dreamer to the full, daily immersion of someone in the thick of it. There were soon countless producers that few knew about yet that eventually became synonymous with The Source. Austria’s Veyder-Malberg showed up on my radar in 2010 (thanks to Circo Vino, an Austrian wine importer), along with France’s Loire Valley rising star, Arnaud Lambert, and the discovery of his laser beam Chenin Blancs of Brézé, followed by Thierry Richoux and his singular, giant-slaying Pinot Noirs from the unassuming and minuscule ancient village, Irancy, in the far northwestern corner of Burgundy. Poderi Colla, one of the greatest and all too often overlooked families in all of Piedmont, suddenly caught my attention at a Barolo party overflowing with great wines, when I’d never heard of, had or seen their wines among the vast sea of Barolos, a region I thought I knew a fair bit about at the time. And at the same moment I fell head over heels (like so many others worldwide) for Jean-Luis Dutraive’s wines, which he kicked off with his spectacular run from 2012 to 2014, before Beaujolais blew into the mainstream. Then there was Green Spain… In northwestern Iberia, just above Portugal is Galicia—a part of Green Spain. Galicia is one of the most obvious places in all of Europe clearly with the ability to achieve so much, but with enormous unmet potential. It has a rich history, a deep well of indigenous noble grape varieties and terroir systems, perfectly suited to produce a broad diversity of deeply complex wines. I only began learning about it in depth about four years ago, shortly after my wife and I took our month-long honeymoon in Spain in an attempt to actually get away from wine for a moment. On our journey in the heat of late September and early October, we found ourselves off the wine path and in the world of the tourist, and it took only a couple nights of the famous bruiser red wines from Spain before we began our retreat to beer and Albariño in an attempt to stay fresh and clear-headed so we could enjoy each oncoming day. Once we got home, my friends, Rajat Parr and Brian McClintic, who both resided at my house in Santa Barbara at different times (the latter for years), kept pushing me in the direction of Galicia with so many good wines from Envínate, the now famous producer from the Ribeira Sacra with a ubiquitous presence on all serious wine lists, worldwide. Then JD Plotnick joined our Source team and stoked my Galician embers into a full raging fire. He’s freaky about Galician wines (and wine in general, which makes him a particularly effective and respected salesperson) and it has been a major focus for him for many years, long before Envínate nearly single-handedly put Galicia into mainstream wine pop culture. Enter Cume do Avia The most beguiling wines give the impression that you’ve never truly fallen in love like you have with the one currently in your glass. My first taste of Cume do Avia was at a restaurant in Sanxenxo, at Bar Berbereco, with Manuel Moldes (known to his friends and family as Chicho) and the owner of the restaurant, José (Salvo) Esperon and all of our better halves. Salvo brought out a bottle of Cume do Avia’s Colleita 5 Tinto. I asked if I could taste another wine from this producer because I loved one I was drinking, but was trying to temper my excitement since one-offs happen a lot. But if they could back it up with another wine, it was on. Brancellao was that second wine, luckily for all of us it was incredible, and the rest is history. The wines I first tasted out of barrel with Diego Collarte, one of the family partners of Cume do Avia, seemed to carry the full weight of his family’s collective dream—I’ve never been so moved by the energy of a moment as I was the day I met him and heard his unfiltered, brutally honest view of the challenges they needed to overcome to arrive at that moment, and I knew that I had found as true a diamond as I’ve ever found in the rough. The grit and heart-filled determination of this tribe has led to a range of red wines in 2017 that are raw, honest and inspiring. The nature of the spare and intensely focused wines from the 2018 vintage turned what little noise was left in already impressive wines into wines of greater precision and stark clarity. Diego assures me that this is just the beginning. I believe it. Cume Do Avia Wines In-Depth Raw and enticingly naked, the Colleita 6 Tinto is the charming starting block for Cume do Avia’s range of honest and sparsely touched wines, made from a blend of indigenous red Galician varietals. Caiño Longo (40%) and Brancellao (26%) bring elegance and taut red fruits, and the balance from Sousón (34%), the dark, agile beast side with a deep, vigorous acidity. It’s angular but still soft and restrained, and drinks as much like a white when its young as it does a red, save its glorious, dainty and fluttery red wine characteristics, and the influence of its three-week fermentation with more than a third from whole bunches. A shade over 11% alcohol, it’s aged in an ancient, restored chestnut foudre, and is replete with mineral and metallic impressions derived from its soil mixture of granite, schist and slate. (No matter the scientific debate on how these characters come to a wine, these soils vividly mark their vinous offspring.) Its freshness is a waterlogged forest with tree bark spices, exotic sweet green pastoral herbs and wild red and black berries never touched by a direct ray of sunshine. It’s refreshingly cool, like fog rising from a slow moving river; like rain; like wet, brisk wind. It’s a wine from the Ribeiro and it tastes like that land looks and feels. Cume do Avia’s Brancellao is dainty, thin framed, soft spoken, and subtly powerful. It’s equally as compelling as the other wines in their range of reds, but its charm flows ceaselessly from the first sniff and sip. It’s more suave and with far less than one hundred cases produced annually, Brancellao is still the largest production of their single-varietal wines. It’s extremely fresh, bright and beautifully transparent, and reveals many facets in time, all filling out together as it unfolds. One moment it speaks of Italy’s alpine influenced wines such as Premetta and Schiava; or France’s Massif Central red, Saint Pourçain, a Mugnier-like Pinot Noir from Burgundy; Poulsard from the Jura; lightly extracted old school California Russian River Pinot Noirs from the 80s and 90s like Williams Selyem’s coastal vineyard sites after decades of cellar time. In the glass it smells and tastes of the first red berries of the season, sweet green citrus and bay spice. The palate ceaselessly expands in depth and weight, with the start as light as a darker rosé and that evolves like a fresh, cool vintage red Burgundy from a high elevation site on stony soils. That said, I have no illusion about this wine’s pedigree when comparing it to Burgundy because it is not constructed like one in the cellar. It was crafted for a shorter life, but over hours of tasting it finds unexpected heights that show what its potential could be if modifications were made with the intention of aging it longer. It’s hard to imagine a more compelling prospect in the resurgence of the Spain’s Ribeiro (and perhaps within Galicia) than Caiño Longo. If there were ever an extroverted bright light within all of the noble red grapes of the world, this could be a contender for the top prize. Cume do Avia’s interpretation is almost outrageous and appears to be some kind of mythical legend from a fantasy land. It’s grown on a mix of granite, schist and slate soils, and is a lightning bolt of freshness with an atomic level of expansive energy. In its youth, it bursts with a broad, mouthwatering spectrum of piercing lines, sharp angles, seductive curves and concentrated energy. (My descriptions may seem indulgent, but this wine is like a high-grade stimulant for the nose and mouth.) When I first tasted Cume do Avia’s 2017 Caiño Longo from a restored chestnut barrel of over a hundred years old, it was a hair-raising and somehow illusory experience, and one of the most vivid moments of my entire wine career. Instantly smitten by its flamboyantly profound beauty and depth, I asked if it was made from old vines and was surprised when I was told that they were planted in 2008 and 2009. Its sappy palate and lengthy finish is deceptive and easy to associate with a wine rendered from ancient vines whose energy focuses on fewer but more concentrated grapes. When compared to the entire range of Cume do Avia’s red wines, the mood of the Viño Tinto Sin Sulfuroso lands squarely between the opposing bright red and ink-black single varietal wines. Nearly half the blend is Sousón (known in Portugal as Souzão, Sousão or Vinhão), which brings darkness to the color and a strong virile sense of spice, animal, iodine and belly to the wine—though not as much of a belly as many other solar-powered red wines grown on heavier soils. The difference, a blend of one-third Caiño Longo, both the backbone and horizontal core of the wine, along with the radiant Brancellao (25%), bestow together ethereal wild red berry nuances, unremitting acidity and pure joy. It’s spare on fat, but rich in character and personality. Once past its coy first fifteen minutes, this elegant but firm wine begins to aromatically blossom with pointed thrust and beautifully long lines.
While only in his early forties, Manuel Moldes appears to be well on his way to Yoda status by age fifty, although his peers throughout the expansive underground Spanish wine scene think he’s already there. One of the brightest lights in the rising tide of the Rías Baixas, his inspired talent for wine feels innate. And though his aptitude for deeply technical wine analysis is finely tuned, it’s his curiosity and open mind that guide him. He and his fellow galego winemakers in the Rías Baixas seek out unique vineyards to source grapes and discover something new. Because there are few large plots owned by individual proprietors, these discoveries often come from small parcels overlooked and underutilized; many are in the backyard of a home winemaker, or growers who sell their fraction of a hectare of grapes to larger negociants. Wine Details Afelio is the embodiment of a classically styled Salnés Albariño: elegant tension, aromatic lift and the Atlantic influence with its salt, rain, ocean life, rock grinding waves, and cool brisk air. A set of tiny parcels scattered throughout the heart of the Val do Salnés between Meaño and Cambados grown on granite soils, the vines are trained on overhead pergolas supported by vertical granite posts with horizontal wood beams. Behind the veil of electricity the wine is simply crafted and the hand of the winemaker deft, but the interpretation is unique and subtly expressive. This wine represents the far western pole of electric whites across Europe, from the Loire Valley, Austria and down into the granite islands of Corsica and Sardinia. The fermentation is made in small stainless steel tanks and old French oak barrels. After fermentation it’s aged for eight months and then bottled. A Capela de Aios is named after the tiny capela (church) in the small hamlet of Aios, located outside the Ría de Pontevedra. The vineyards sit on a mound of schist, a unique rock formation in a largely granite land, which Manuel says makes up 99.9% of all the vineyard area within the Val do Salnés. He’s drawn to the expression of wines from this hill, not only because they are rare, but because they bring a very different shape and dimension to Albariño than those grown on granite soils. This wine attacks and finishes like classic schist wines: a strongly mineral and metallic pressure directly on the back and side palate, almost skipping the front entirely by comparison. (Granite wines tend to be the opposite with more of a frontal attack and finish on the palate.) There it rests on the palate with dense salty characteristics and an electric feeling while remaining tight, dry and focused. Not surprisingly it has a strong relation in taste and feel to a Chenin Blanc grown on the schist soils of the Anjou—particularly a dry Chenin from the Côteaux du Layon. It’s fermentated with natural yeasts and aged in 500-700-liter neutral French oak barrels for nine to eleven months, depending on the vintage. An embodiment of all terroir elements of the Rías Baixas, the Acios Mouros red blend rises above its grapes to express its cold and wet climate, the freshness of the forests and countryside, the ocean wind and metal and minerals found in their spare granite and schist soils. All the vineyards are located in the Val do Salnés and scattered between eight sites with varying ages, but with an average of about 40-50 years. The grapes, varieties that easily channel their geological setting, bring more dimension to the wine’s structure and upfront characteristics. In the ensemble, Caiño Redondo, the largest proportion of the blend contributes more acidity, green and balsamic notes. Loureiro Tinto brings the dark and rustic edging with big tannin, acidity and mineral characteristics; it also needs more time to “lighten up” than the others. Espadeiro is the least acidic but the most elegant and sublimely aromatic, similar to Brancellao (not a part of this blend) but with more floral characteristics. In the cellar, the spontaneous fermentation is made without stems and lasts between 30-40 days with daily with gentle, daily punchdowns. The wine is aged in 300-liter old French oak barrels for one year, then in stainless steel for four months before bottling. Rías Baixas Overview The countryside of the Rías Baixas, not yet subjected to the growth of suburban areas surrounding big towns, is typically composed of small farms of vines and other crops, around a central manor. This makes up most of the area where wines produced from purchased grapes are a blend of many parcels, with as many as twenty for Manuel’s granite bedrock and topsoil Albariño, Afelio. Rías Baixas’ geological heritage is as old as all of mainland Europe, but the wines it produces made an about face less than a century ago. Prior to the 1970s, this was red wine country, but today it’s known almost exclusively for Albariño. When in the right hands, Albariño can render forcefully elegant white wines of tension, laced with mineral nuances and complexity while maintaining reliable quaffability, and even in the most sternly acidic years pinned down by a cold and rainy summer. Of course, like with any wine region, there is the flip side, but even at its lowest level of mass production Albariño is hardly offensive—unless tragically sulfured into oblivion. Most who have not set foot in or read about Galicia would be in for a surprise. This is Green Spain, and it looks nothing like the iconic Spanish images of sweeping desert landscapes, endless olive groves and vineyards, and arid beaches of the Costa del Sol and Costa Brava with their inviting crystalline blue water. Here the hillsides are dense with forest and green everywhere, the climate is cold and wet, the beaches mostly frigid and windy with very little influence, if any, from the Mediterranean. The galegos are a soft and humble people, innocent in a way compared to other parts of Spain, and have gotten the short end of the stick on what most of us think of as an endless supply of Spanish sunshine. They are paler in complexion, revealing their Celtic past, and their traditional dance outfits look every bit as Celtic as they do Spanish. Even the dances can be more of a jig filled with joy, smiles and stiffness; quite the opposite of the Spanish flamenco with its free-flowing movements and sensuality, its physical poetry of love and sorrow. Bagpipes, called galleta galleo, accompany the dance and endlessly echo through the granite corridors surrounding the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, the final destination for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Like the culture, Galician wine is also different from most of the rest of Spain. Galician weather is influenced more by the Atlantic than the Mediterranean and the desert, and moving further west toward the coast, the continental influences lose influence. Manuel’s vineyards are located in the Val do Salnés, the coldest sub-zone of the Rías Baixas, Galicia’s coldest wine region. It’s one of the last frontiers of cold climate wines barely able to eek out ripeness in some years, although with climate change this comment may shortly be antiquated. The result of the cooler climate’s influence on the wines in Galicia naturally keep the alcohol volume down, but these levels are also dictated by the grape varieties, viticultural practices, the soil composition, exposure, the picking decisions of the growers and, of course, the vintage—so many things to consider! Immediately visible upon entering Rías Baixas, the pergola vine training system was first employed about half a century ago when Albariño marched to its near clean sweep over the Rías Baixas, booting out most of the reds and other white grapes. Almost everything was replanted and with the new plantings came the question of how to better work against the humidity. The height of the pergola, which often stands between six and eight feet overhead, offered plenty of room for wind (lots of that here, thanks to the Atlantic) to work against the ever-present humidity. Albariño is one the world’s most talented communicators of terroir, and it does so with striking clarity. The Val do Salnés is the epicenter of quality and it’s here where Albariño best demonstrates its breed, surpassing the other regions of the Rías Baixas. A brief summary of the others are, starting in the south and on the Portuguese border and Miño River, O Rosal, which is close to the ocean, like Salnés; Condado do Tea, further inland on the Miño and with a more dry climate making organic farming a reasonable possibility—but still not at all easy one; further north is the smallest, Soutomaior, at the eastern end of the Ria de Vigo, between the cities Vigo and Pontevedre; then the Val do Salnés (which will be thoroughly covered in detail below); and further north, the Ribera de Ulla, composed mostly of alluvium deposits from the Ulla River. Reds On The Rise In this time in wine history there has never been a better moment to usher in the Rías Baixas red grapes, with their unique aromas, tastes and deep textures into the market. They’re extremely fresh with the shape and framing of a white wine. They often have as much acidity than some Albariños produced in the area. Given the cold Atlantic climate, it’s almost impossible here to develop a wine of brute strength combined with extract and a fleshy body one could find in a warmer area. Here the granite soils (and to a much lesser degree, schist) lengthen the wines more vertically than round or horizontal in shape. Fruit in these wines often takes a seat further back than the first two rows dominated by extreme mineral and metal pressure. It’s difficult to pinpoint what will emerge as the lead within the most compelling red grapes in the Rías Baixas; some of the current frontrunners are Espadeiro, Loureira Tinto, Brancellao and the extremely talented family of Caiños, of which there are six or seven known varieties—perhaps more will pop up someday with a family tree as extensive as this. The Val do Salnés is mostly inside the Ría de Arousa, the largest of the rías, with some of it facing the Ría de Pontevedre with the O Grove peninsula in-between, connected to the mainland only by the O Vao isthmus (a thin strip of land). Most of Salnés is deep inside an estuary (rías) and locked into the Atlantic climate. The extra dose of humidity from the estuary presents a very different set of circumstances compared to those further inland and out toward the west into the Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras, and Monterrei, where the heat of the continental climate can ameliorate to a smaller degree high humidity problems. However, the Ribeiro, the next region over toward the west, is one of the most difficult areas for an unwavering commitment to organic and biodynamic viticulture as well—we know this firsthand working with growers there, like Cume do Avia and Augalevada, who can’t seem to get their organic production of grapes to beyond 50% of their potential yield—too much is lost to mildew every year. Organic and biodynamic farming in the Val do Salnés is a challenge not yet surmounted with success with every vintage; the ideas are great in theory but not yet in practice. With June and July often between 80-85% humidity and temperatures between 22-25°C, it is a paradise for fungus. For organic or biodynamic methods to have a fighting chance, they need winters that get down to freezing and summers that hit over 30°C, and they have neither—yet… Furthermore, the negative ecological and carbon footprint from the excessive amount of copper and sulfur treatments and the fuel guzzled by machines to administer them is simply ecologically irresponsible in extremely high mildew pressure years. Let’s face it, copper is a biocide and its not good for the environment. Once we are gone, the legacy of copper left in soils from the wines we drank will remain. Geological Setting Granite is king in the Val do Salnés with much of the topsoil decomposed sands derived from this bedrock. Despite granite’s affinity for good drainage, the ground in Salnés, with its west facing tilt, catches sun later in the morning and can still be completely wet in the early summer afternoon without having had a rain for weeks—something I have witnessed firsthand! Geologically, the Rías Baixas and all of Galicia are part of the Galician Massif, an ancient remnant from before Pangaea (the last supercontinent where all the main bodies of today’s continents were connected) began to break apart. Here the bedrock and soil is largely granitic, an acidic igneous rock, quite the opposite of limestone, a common alkaline bedrock found throughout much of Europe and an exceptional foundation for wine growing. And while there are scientific naysayers vis-à-vis the contribution of bedrock and soil to a wine’s characteristics (which they mostly limit to its water retentive capacity), the taste of wines from different formations say otherwise. We believe that—despite the lack of solid science yet to support it—bedrock and soil imparts characteristics to a wine that can be similar to another wine composed of completely different grapes but on the same general type of bedrock and soil halfway around the world. The Galician Massif (a subsection of the Iberian Massif) is geologically related to France’s Massif Armoricain (home to the wine regions Muscadet and Anjou) and Massif Central (Beaujolais and Northern Rhône), most of Corsica and parts of Sardinia with all of its ancient igneous granite and metamorphic rock dating back as far as just over 500 million years ago. It’s no surprise that similarities can be found between Albariño from the Rías Baixas and other noble grapes—like Vermentino from Corsica and Sardinia, Melon de Bourgogne from Muscadet, and Chenin Blanc from the Anjou—if grown in soils from the same geological era or makeup. When Galician reds are blind tasted by local growers with French wines from Beaujolais or Northern Rhône Valley Syrah in the mix grown in similar soil types as their region, they’re easy to confuse one for the other. The impression is uniquely similar in mineral, metal and salty characteristics in both the aroma and palate. The difference is often the solar power, the grapes, often times the alcohol content, and the influence of the grower in the vineyard and cellar. Disparities aside, the similarities are notable for those who make it a habit to observe such things.