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Clay and Sand Comparison between Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc (from our May Wine Club)

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.

Newsletter December 2022

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.

Newsletter June 2022

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.

The Greatest Forgotten Hill

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.

Source Exclusive Lambert Chenin Blancs, Bonne Nouvelle & Montsoreau

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.

Interview with Brendan Stater-West

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?

The Thanksgiving Six

It may have taken all year for us to finally arrive at a silver lining of gratitude for a unique year that continues to serve up one piece of humble pie after another. Finally some good news arrived that we can all be thankful for—the arrival of a potential vaccine, as well as… a few other things… So many in the wine industry push Beaujolais as the perfect wine for Thanksgiving, and they’re right to do so! But there are so many other wines in the world that fit the bill and also deserve a shot at the crown on this annual day of gratitude. While we’ll focus on some new talent from different places, there is indeed a Beaujolais in the mix that will confidently check the boxes of serious and delicious, and we’ve thrown in a white perfectly suited for the occasion as well. There’s only one white here because most people tend to buy more red wines for this day, despite the fact that white wine has a natural affinity for this kind of food, too. But let’s face it, I’m not trying to change your ways! I’m here to sell you the wine you want and deserve! Back to the Beaujolais thing… One of the reasons Beaujolais is touted as the perfect pairing for Thanksgiving is due to its softer tannins that don’t crush the food; big tannin wines are definitely for meats other than Turkey! Beaujolais’ fruit forward qualities match up with some of the sweeter dishes such as yams and cranberries, ones that seem to appear for this specific meal and rarely any other time of the year. This wine’s minerally texture and freshness do wonders for making each bite taste as fresh as the first—one of the original tasks for which a wine is to be relied upon for meals like this. Bojo simply goes with the flow. But so do so many other superstar performers that seem to get benched on this occasion for no other reason than they don’t say Beaujolais on the label! Today, it’s time to consider bending tradition a little, and try something different that will be equally as rewarding, if not more so. What is listed here for the big day are six wines that concede to the food and rise to the jovial nature of the occasion. We start with a single white from Austria and move on to reds from France, Italy and Spain, which are listed in order by weight and power, starting with the most delicate and leading to the fuller-flavored wines. Wine Details If there was ever a single white wine from Europe that fits Thanksgiving, it has to be Austria’s Grüner Veltilner. It’s a grape variety built of savory characters that go right along with the food, which makes sense, considering the fact that there are a lot of similarities between Thanksgiving and Austrian countryside fare. Also, it’s hard to dispute that the Mittelbach Federspiel Grüner Veltliner is likely the top-value wine in this region among its list of stellar winegrowers. What’s more is that it comes from some of the region’s most revered terroirs (for the geeks: Loibenberg, Kellerberg and Steinriegl). So why is the price so much less than the going rate? 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, fresh, pure, and gulpable. Cume do Avia’s 2019 Colleita 7 Tinto is a total knockout and is the most common wine on my table since I took my cases home from Cume’s winery just an hour and half north of us in Portugal. This is a red wine that lands right in-between a red and a white in structure, finesse and energy. With the higher yield in 2019 (which was still only about 70% of what they hoped for in any case) the team decided to make an even more meticulous selection of grapes than usual for this blend, resulting in a more serious Colleita red, which it is, but it’s still so delicious and easy to quaff. It’s principally a blend of 49% Caíño Longo, 37% Brancellao, 10% Sousón, and Merenzao (known in France as Trousseau), all grapes that lead with perfume and vigorous freshness. Aged in an extremely old, large foudre, and at a mere 10.5% alcohol, this wine can be sorted out as fast as one wants, without morning repercussions… This makes it a worthy consideration for numerous bottles, all of which will certainly deliver. There isn’t a better Beaujolais we have on offer for the price than Anthony Thevenet's Morgon. It comes from organically farmed vineyards on gravely granite topsoil that range in age between sixty and eighty years, within the minuscule commune of Douby, combined with some from the famous lieu-dit, Courcelette, with Anthony’s parcel completely made of soft, beach-like granite sands. The result is a substantial Beaujolais predicated on elegance and grace, even from the 2017 vintage, where the alcohol level of many of the wines from top producers breached 14% and even went beyond 15%. At a mere 12.5% alcohol, it may even be too easy to drink. And for that reason you might need a few of these for dinner… No short list of wines from us should ever miss a wine crafted by the talented Arnaud Lambert. His Saumur-Champigny “Les Terres Rouges” is a charming and utterly delicious Cabernet Franc from Saumur-Champigny’s southernmost hill, Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg. The fragrant dark-earth notes of Cabernet Franc give the impression of black soils unearthed from a thick overlay of wet forest moss, grass and bramble. However, despite the impression and name (which translates to “the red earth”), the soil is light brown clay with alluvial sands atop white tuffeau limestone. The cool harvest conditions, the soil and bedrock, and a life spent in stainless steel tanks renders this wine medium bodied with a clean and refreshing finish. Indeed, the sand plays its part as well by elevating the fruits and flowers in the bouquet to the ethereal realm. This privileged location makes for consistent ripening, lending the final wine flush with an array of black and red fruits. Truly another total win for Thanksgiving. Undoubtedly one of the greatest jack of all trades for food pairing beyond fish has to go to Chianti Classico, especially those done in a way that they don’t obliterate the food, meaning: less new oak and extraction please, and thank you! The Riecine Chianti Classico is well above the cut for the price, and will, like the others on the list, be a top performer with food. This wine is for those who do want a little more oomph to their reds, but not a sledgehammer. Fruit forward with a seamless and refined texture, Riecine’s first tier Chianti Classico is serious Sangiovese, but with glou glou immediacy upon pulling the cork. Not solely a one-trick pleasure-pony, this wine has extra gears and demonstrates its versatility and depth with more aeration (if it can be resisted long enough). More classically savory characteristics of Chianti Classico begin to unfold after a little time open in its youth and surely with more maturation in the cellar, and are supported with the acidic snap from its high altitude and endowed with a sappy red fruit core. It’s grown on a limestone and clay vineyard and is aged in large old oak barrels to further highlight its purity and high-toned frequency. Get this one open early so it shines at the right moment. Fuentes del Silencio's Las Jaras is simply a bombshell for the price. Hey, who can boast a wine as serious for the price as this that comes from 80 to 150-year-old vines?! The blend is Mencía, Prieto Picudo and Alicante Bouschet, and this makes for a wine of unusual depth, concentration and surprising freshness. At an altitude of more than 2,600 feet (extremely high by wine region standards), the growing season is long and results in a wine of wonderful tension, texture and freshness. Once the cork is pulled, the wine immediately begins its vertical climb and builds from one strength to the next, and even day after day. It seems that this wine can easily last for a week after being opened and still deliver freshness and bright fruit. This is the bigger mouthful in the range, but it still stays the course with gentle tannins that don’t squash the meal.

The Everyday Dozen

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.

Rad Pork

Years ago, one freezing February in Friuli I pulled into the town of Gorizia, near the Slovenian border. I was bundled up tightly, as the temperature hovered around forty degrees, which made me all the more surprised to find the town square packed with people, eating, drinking, and making merry. I approached, curious to find out what could be causing this improbable, wintry revelry, only to discover just as unbelievable a source: Radicchio. I had happened on the festival for Rosa di Gorizia, a highly prized version of radicchio, which, when its leaves are pulled back, resembles a rose. Hundreds of people, wrapped in coats, scarves and hats drank wine as vendors tending outdoor kitchens couldn’t grill and fry these lovely magenta vegetables fast enough. Italians revere what we fail to appreciate in America, where radicchio languishes primarily as a streak of color in green salads. They revel in its versatility. They roast it, grill it, deep fry it in batter, caramelize it, cut it into ribbons and toss it with pasta, they stir it sweetly into risotto. Radicchio perfectly articulates Italians’ famous predilection for bitterness, which we simply don’t share. Cookbook writer Barbara Kafka explained more about it than I ever could back in this 1988 Times piece. So, I won’t belabor its culinary genius. Rather, I’ll mention something that never gets brought up: Radicchio is brilliant with wine. Simultaneously sweet and bitter, tender and crunchy, Radicchio is remarkably able to be two things at once. This ability to resolve contrasting elements not only provides a native complexity, it makes radicchio an ideal intermediary between plate and glass. Many wines, red and white, have a tinge of bitterness. Often we fail to note this or comment on it, because it usually expresses itself fleetingly in the finish, and we tasters tend to focus more on sweetness, fruit, spice, acid, and tannins. Unsurprisingly, Italian wines, more than any category, consistently express a bitter note. Look for it in most wines, but to give a few examples: Verdicchio and Vermentino, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, Fiano, Aglianico, Nerello. The list could go on for pages. French wines are no strangers to bitterness; see Loire wines, red Burgundy, Beaujolais, Alsace, Rhone reds and whites. In pairing food and wine, we love to connect to a wine’s fruit. But having something on the plate which reaches out to a wine’s slight bitterness completes the relationship. Radicchio is that liaison. Cooking it also brings out its sweetness, making the match doubly appealing. While strong in flavor, radicchio is lighter in texture, making it, in my opinion, ideal for wines at the lighter end of the spectrum: red Burgundy, Nebbiolo, and Cabernet Franc from the Loire. I prefer the Old World versions of these wines with radicchio, simply because New World ones, in their joyful emphasis on fruit, lack that bitter note. Below find a simple recipe for pork chop and radicchio, both grilled. This is a dynamite meal to have with a red Burgundy or any Nebbiolo from Piedmont. Look for thick-cut pork, with meat as purplish and dark as possible, which indicates more flavor. While the pork marinade calls for a habanero, have no fear; it doesn’t really introduce heat, more just a hint of chile flavor. But as delicious as is pork, the magenta-hued chicory is the real star here. Two thick-cut Pork Chops, the darker the meat and fattier, the better 1 Large Head of Radicchio (or two smaller ones) Pork Chop Marinade: 1 Habanero Pepper 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves 1 clove of garlic, minced Juice of 1/2 lemon—about an ounce Radicchio marinade: 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and Pepper Finely mince the habanero and mix it with the thyme leaves and garlic then stir in the lemon juice. Toss the pork chops in this mixture and let sit for 1-2 hours. Whisk a tablespoon of white wine vinegar with two tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Cut the radicchio into thick wedges, leaving the core intact so the leaves stay together. To prepare the grill, create a coal bed large enough in area to match the area of the pork chops. The coals should be hot, but not too hot—aim for no-hotter than a four-count with the hand above the coals. Salt the chops before placing them on the grill. Grill on both sides before standing them on their edges to brown the outer ring of fat if there is one. Finish by standing on the bones and grilling for another 3-4 minutes. Internal temperature should be about 130° F when you remove from the grill (for medium rare). Allow the meat to rest by standing the chops together on their bones. While they rest, toss the Radicchio in the vinaigrette and spread them out over the coals, which should be slowly cooling down. Don’t move the radicchio sections until you turn them (to keep them from falling apart). They are finished when a bit of char begins to appear, but don’t let them get thoroughly burned. Arrange the two on a plate and serve with a Burgundy or a Nebbiolo from Piemonte. Wines to pair this dish with: 2014 Alain Michaud Brouilly - Beautifully combining serious Beaujolais' ability to merge cheerful fruit with a more structured, mineral character, Alain Michaud's Brouilly sets the standard for that cru. Here, it brilliantly picks up the hints of char and smoke, nestling them in its earthy/fruity embrace. 2013 Demougeot Bourgogne Rouge - One of the rising new talents of the Côte de Beaune, Rodolphe Demougeot makes both white and red wines of impressive quality. This Bourgogne Rouge delivers exactly what such a wine should—buoyant red fruit on a smooth palate that goes down with delightful ease. A hint of leafy earthiness in the finish is what will bond with the radicchio's mild bitterness. 2012 Poderi Colla Nebbiolo d'Alba - Tart cherry, orange zest, floral high tones—this basic Nebbiolo from the Colla family has all the seductive flavors and aromas we expect of the grape. Pleasantly round and mid-bodied, it brings some gentle tannins into play, perfectly complementing the pork and radicchio.  

Newsletter May 2022

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

Newsletter February 2022

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.

Newsletter January 2023

Forteresse de Berrye and its historic vineyards (Download complete pdf here) The Dam Broke? There is a lot about to happen in the first quarter of this new year as we unexpectedly had ten containers arrive in November; normally, we receive two or three in a single month. Things had been running so late over the last year and a half that we ordered very early to try to get ahead of any delays, but now the dam seems to have broken (we hope). Imports sometimes stretched to as much as seven months coming from France right after the pandemic (less in other countries), and maybe now we’re getting back to something more manageable. November isn’t the best time to launch new producers into the market so with these nine new ones (three from the Loire Valley, two from Douro, and one each from Alentejo, Rioja, Etna, and Tuscany), we’ll be staggering them out over the coming months. This newsletter will introduce three of our new producers imported exclusively in the US by The Source. Because there’s so much material, it’s helpful to download the attached pdfs in order to read up completely on each of them; otherwise, this document would be a book. First is Forteresse de Berrye, the epicenter of a wonderful new renaissance within a historic commune of Saumur, ten kilometers south of Brézé, a place with similar potential for Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc as that now-glorified hill. The new owner (since 2019), Gilles Colinet, a former botanist, converted to organic culture straight away, and his first efforts are promising. You’ll then meet Giacomo Baraldo, a fabulous young producer from Tuscany with years of experience all over the world (including Burgundy) who’s crafting refined and distinctive Sangiovese single-site wines at high altitudes, and a diverse, exquisitely crafted and compelling range of white wines, most notably from Chardonnay vines planted on limestone and clay at high altitude with massale selections gathered from Corton-Charlemagne, Saint-Aubin, and Puligny-Montrachet. Finally, we’re proud to offer the wines of Quinta da Carolina. This quinta is run by one of Portugal’s young superstars, Luis Candido da Silva. He’s currently the head winemaker of the non-Port wines at Dirk Niepoort’s empire in the Douro. Under his own label, he crafts stunning white and red still wines from north facing, high altitude hills in the Douro. These three are a great trio to start the new year. Quantities from each are limited, so if something strikes your interest, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Quinta da Carolina vineyards in the foreground overlooking the Douro Download Forteresse de Berrye Profile Download Giacomo Baraldo Profile Download Quinta da Carolina Profile California Trade Events In February we’ll put on more sit-down trade tasting events showcasing some allocated, limited, and new producers. Please ask your salesperson to book your seat as they will be limited. We plan to schedule quarterly tastings because there is so much to show and because we’ve had a great response to them. On the billing: Wechsler’s 2020 Riesling crus, Veyder-Malberg’s 2021 Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, 2020 Artuke Rioja single-site wines, 2020 Collet Chablis grand crus, and some of our new producers, Vallée Moray (Montlouis), Vincent Bergeron (Montlouis), Tapada do Chaves (Alentejo), and José Gil (Rioja). February 7th: San Francisco at DecantSF from 11am -3pm February 8th: West Hollywood at Terroni from 11am-3pm February 9th: San Diego at Vino Carta from 11am - 2pm   New Terroir Map It seems that I’ve waited forever to finally release this terroir map of Portugal’s Douro. Now that we have two new producers from there, both truly special people (also very different, and making quite different styles of wine), we can finally put this one out there. The grape key was put together with the help of Luis Candida da Silva from Quinta da Carolina because I am simply not qualified to organize such things with so many complex and relatively unknown varieties as these! This map, as with all of our terroir maps, was also done in collaboration with Ivan Rodriguez, a PhD student and MSc of Geology from the University of Vigo, along with my wife, Andrea Arredondo, our graphic designer. Ivan has become a close and very special friend and also a part of our team. He is an incredible resource and helps with our many educational projects where science needs to be better understood. You can download the map by clicking on it which will take you to our website to download it with the three additional pages of support material. New Arrivals Veyder Malberg Bruck vineyard directly in front and Brandstatt in the upper left Veyder-Malberg 2021 Rieslings and Grüner Veltliner Crus Veyder Malberg’s 2021 vintage will also be trickling out over the next few weeks, starting with the entry-level wines and then the top wines shown at our tasting events in the first week of February. Austria continues to have slam-dunk vintages every other year with their Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. First it was 2013, then 2015, 2017, 2019, now 2021. A big fan of all, but more 2013 and 2019 than the others, it’s likely 2021 will be the best of the bunch. They are so fluid and tense, aromatically fine yet with the right pressure. Never did I think (with very strong lean toward Riesling) Grüner Veltliner would rival a great producer’s Rieslings in a top vintage, but 2021 is without question for me the best vintage for this variety I can remember—at least from the likes of our great growers there, Peter Veyder-Malberg, Tegernseerhof and Michael Malat. The top Veltliners seemed to have somehow swapped out the extra fluff and broad palate weight for finer, lacier, minerally profile, like a young prodigious progeny of Riesling and Veltliner. The Rieslings are as good as it gets. It’s simply a banner year, a throwback to the old days in overall structure and profile with a bright but tensile, sunny smile. Peter gave us the opportunity to go long on this vintage because he accidentally shorted us on the 2020. We were happy to make up the balance of what we would’ve normally gotten, and from this incredibly fantastic year. One could write a book of tasting descriptions for a year like this, but they’re already going to be in such high demand that I don’t want to promote too much. My advice is to get everything you can! Not only from Veyder, but all of your favorite producers. They will surely age beautifully and they do indeed sing gorgeously now. Jean Collet 2020 Chablis Premier and Grand Cru What follows is a commentary on the 2020 vintage from our July 2022 Newsletter, which was a preface to the offer of Christophe et Fils 2020s. I haven’t changed my thoughts on this vintage (though it includes a few editorial changes), only that I’m even more convinced of their quality. The 2020 season was not as hot as 2018 and 2019. While 2019 may have jumped a little further from being described as “classic” Chablis due to its riper fruit notes (but with a surprisingly high level of acidity for this warm year), some hail 2020 as “classic,” “early but classic,” and “a great vintage.” I don’t even know what “classic” means anymore with regard to Chablis, or anywhere else. Do you? I know what “great” means to me, personally (with emotional value topping the list), but my “great” may not be yours. Our current frame of reference and experience sculpts all of our preferences, and our formative years will always be present as well. People who’ve been in the wine business for decades have different associations with wine than those more recently seduced by Dionysus. Classic Chablis? I haven’t had a young Chablis that vibrates with tense citrus and flint, a visible green hue, shimmering acidity, and coarse mineral texture all in the same sip for a long time—so long that I can’t even remember the last vintage where I had those sensations with newly bottled Chablis. (Of course, a recently bottled wine still high-strung with sulfites can give that appearance but the wine will display its truer nature a few years after its bottling date.) Chablis is different now. Burgundy is different. Everywhere is different from a decade ago and obviously even more so than from two decades ago. With the composition of today’s wine lists and their one or two pages of quickly-changing inventory compared to extensive cellars of restaurant antiquity, most of us have developed different expectations—if not completely different perspectives—for wine now than what “classic” used to imply. (The idea of “classic” from more than twenty-five years ago when I first became obsessed with wine now conjures images of chemically farmed vineyards and their spare wines.) 2020 may be fresher and brighter than the last two years in some ways but maybe with less stuffing than the similarly calibrated 2017s, a vintage I loved the second I tasted the first example out of barrel at Domaine Jean Collet. Maybe we can call 2020 “classic,” but if picking started at the end of August, would that “classic” be graded on a curve? The artistic Romain Collet Snapshot of 2019-2021 Romain Collet says that both 2019 and 2020 were very warm vintages that experienced about the same losses of 10-15% from spring frost. The 2019s were picked in the first week of September, while 2020 began one week later—though the budbreak of 2020 was earlier than 2019, perhaps lending some credence to the use of “classic” when categorizing this year because the season was longer than it would otherwise appear if one only considers the harvest dates. 2021 was a cold year and this one will surely ring true as a classic Chablis vintage. They started picking at the end of September and finished on October 6th. Considering how late they picked with the loss of 30-40% of their 2021 crop to frost, this should make it quite a strong vintage for those in search of what’s considered a truly classic vintage style. We’ll see, but if the Collet’s 2021s are any indicator of what’s to come, the classicists will be very happy, even though there was chaptalization on many wines across the appellation to get them up past 12% alcohol. Chaptalization was always a known element with classic Burgundy wines but in the last warm decades we don’t talk about it much anymore; alcohol levels are naturally high because it’s gettin’ hot! Romain’s intuition for managing each year’s challenges continues to surprise—and pleasantly, of course. In cold years, the wines are classic, and with Raveneau-esque fluid sappiness and the element of attractive green notes—green apple skin, wheatgrass, green grapes, lime, sweet mint—though they’re also perhaps a little bonier and more square. (Raveneau is Romain’s inspiration in overall style and each year he creeps a little closer to it.) In warm years the wines maintain structure, though with rounder and more tropical fruit notes, while being more taut than one would expect. 2020 is indeed another successful year for Collet. The quantities produced are less than the years before, but the good news is that they’ve kept our allocation relatively the same. Arriving are the 2020 and 2021 Saint-Bris made from purchased fruit from one of Romain’s longtime friends. These are a good (and needed) counter for the low quantities of Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, and their neighboring, less famous appellations. Saint-Bris neighbors Chablis but was planted to Sauvignon Blanc instead of Chardonnay because it’s extremely rocky, with less topsoil, better for Sauvignon and not so good for Chardonnay, which needs more topsoil. Despite the spare soils, the wines are full compared to others from the appellation, and they represent a great value from this talented producer. Butteaux at the bottom of the picture, Forêts where the road turns right, Montmains (though it includes the previous two lieux-dits) is further toward the village on this hill slope, grand crus all the way in the back and Vaillons on the hill just to the left along the forested top. Left Bank Premier Crus As usual, we have the star-studded lineup of premier crus, starting with Montmains, a selection of fruit from the original Montmains lieu-dit that sits closest to the village, on the rockiest soils the Collet’s have for this designation. As one would expect from this topsoil-spare site, this is one of the most minerally wines in their range and Romain exemplifies its character with a steel élevage. Part of the Montmains hill is subdivided into two more well-known lieux-dits (that can be labeled as Montmains as well but seem to rarely be these days) are Les Forêts and Butteaux. Here we find more topsoil in both sites compared to the rows closer to the village. Les Forêts’ young vines usually prove to be the most exotic of their range while Butteaux with its old vines and heavier topsoil with massive rocks in it is one of the stoutest, and in a blind tasting it could easily be confused for a grand cru wine on weight and power alone. Vaillons shot in Vaillons The long hill of Vaillons parallels Montmains just to the north, separated by Chablis village vineyards on the same Kimmeridgian marls as the premier crus but face more toward the north—the sole reason for their classification instead being appointed premier cru status. Vaillons is often my “go-to” Chablis in Collet’s range of premier crus when I want a balance of everything. It’s minerally due to the very rocky soil, and has good body because of its 40% clay in the topsoil. Tension is always there no matter the vintage because of the richer, more water retentive soil that makes for a longer and less hydric stressed season compared to other sites with sparer soils. The majority of the vineyard faces southeast with some parcels due east, bringing an advantage from the morning sun and less so the baking evening summer and autumn sun. Though not as hot as the right bank with the grand crus facing more toward the west, it shows its breed with a constant evolution rising in the glass due to the many different lieux-dits parcels blended into it. I believe that Collet is the owner of the largest portion of vines on this big cru hillside, making for that sort of MVP character without anything missing due to the large stable of parcels to choose from. Given its size, it is also the largest quantity of wine from any single Collet premier cru we receive. Montée de Tonnerre in the center and Mont de Milieu to the right Right Bank Crus The Collets are advantaged with a fabulous collection of vineyards from both sides of the river, though most of their premier cru land is on the left bank. While the left bank wines could be characterized as more mineral dominant than the right bank, there are indeed exceptions. I’ve often said that Mont de Milieu is one of those wines that, though it is on the right bank, is very left bank in style compared to the grand crus and many of the other right bank premier crus. There are also few who bottle Mont de Milieu. Over the years this wine was always good but less impressive than many in Collet’s range, at least for me. These days, I lament the small quantities we are allocated (based on past purchases) because the most recent versions are starting to fight for top billing in the premier cru range. There is no doubt that the 2021 version of this wine is one of the top of the vintage, if not the top premier cru (at least very early on during a tasting this last November at the domaine), and the 2020 is a great prelude to what will arrive next year. We only have ten cases to share, so they will be judiciously allocated. There is no greater call in the Chablis premier cru world than Montée de Tonnerre. Yes, it’s like a grand cru in some ways, mostly in how regal it is, but it is its own terroir as well. Positioned between Mont de Milieu and the grand cru slope, just a ravine away from Blanchots and Les Clos, it finds the balance with a gentler slope in many parts than the grand cru hillside which has many different aspects and greater variability between the crus. Collet also has (in very small quantities) the grand crus, Valmur and Les Clos. Their Valmur is situated at the top of the cru on its south side, facing northwest, which was less ideal for a grand cru decades ago but perfect for today’s shifting climate. Stout and minerally, I believe it to consistently be one of the greatest overall wines in our entire portfolio. Les Clos is its equal but perhaps more extroverted and even slightly more balanced, gilded with Chablis’ royal trim and the sun’s gold. The topsoil toward the bottom of the hill is deeper and richer, bringing an added advantage against the hydric stress of warmer years, though disadvantaged in fending off frost. Don’t forget to download the pdfs of Forteresse de Berrye, Giacomo Baraldo and Quinta da Carolina! We go deep!

Holiday Bubbles

Winston Churchill said in 1946, “I could not live without Champagne. In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.” Whether you think you deserve it or need it, everyone in the US probably really could regularly use a good glass or bottle of bubbles. With what will inevitably be a difficult remainder of this unforgettable year that we’d all rather forget, maybe there’s a need to allocate at least a few cases for every drinking adult out there… Or maybe you’ll choose to keep your indulgences to a minimum until the holidays, when some of us might experience some added travel and risky-mingle stresses to our already interesting family gatherings. This selection of six wines can set you up with what you need for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc, as well as the finale, on December 31st, when we’ll tell a lot of what happened in 2020 to go to h**l, while we also toast the many things for which we’re grateful. The Tiers The first tier of sparklers is for the bigger family gatherings, where price and quality are imperative. These go quickly so you may want to double up on them. And we can’t forget to account for those sneaky family members who forgot they are not the only ones at the party. You know they’ve already scoped out and zeroed in on the wines you brought because they’re not dumb and they know your wines are the best anyone brought. Consider these wonderful wines to kick it all off. And maybe they’ll take the biggest hit in the collection of wines you offered to the party. Just make sure the family wine predator sees you pop one of these first, take a sip, smile like you’re proud, intentionally forget your manners and look a little greedy by taking a bit more before offering it to anyone else. Look the predator straight in the eye to signal that you know they want some and pour them a nice big glass to keep them busy while you head to the kitchen to get into the second tier wine in the fridge before they catch on to your game. That’s how it’s done. I’ve been doing it for more than two decades now, and it works. The second tier is a step-up and should partly be kept away from the family wine predator until you’ve had your share and are ready to move on from bubbles and that maybe you begin to feel guilty that you’ve been holding out on them; they’re still family after all, and I guess that counts for something. The second tier is indeed for you but even more so for the elders in the family who have endured your pain-in-the-butt family this long as well as this extraordinarily stressful year. Predator Tip: Make sure they don’t see what you’re up to and don’t ever set the bottle down until you’re ready to say goodbye to it. You can foil them by pouring it almost completely out for those most deserving (including you, of course), but offer them the last taste by pouring the remaining couple ounces, just enough to let them think about their sizable past offenses. In the last phases of the holiday, we start to dig into Champagne and we’re going to keep the prices in the non-ridiculous category. They’re wines that are exceptional in their own right, but young and exciting. The first set of Champagne’s are best served up with food. They are not the aperitifs or after dinner types that flaunt crystalline qualities and big fruit, or matured age with subtle nuance. These are savory, which makes them ideal with food. (The other showoff Champagnes that can be more overwhelmed by food than these will come in the next tier…) These wines need to be opened when people start snacking heavily and should be nearly polished off before everyone sits down and migrates into their preferred color. At last, it was a good day and you’ve maybe taken a post-lunch, booze-induced nap, or you’re wild-eyed and just beginning to defile yourself as you purge 2020. In any case, by the time you get to this last tier of wines, it’s been a long day and you’ve waded your way through a lengthy dinner and floated away on a lot of good bottles; well, at least if you’re able to enjoy the ones you brought before they’re topped up around the table, three glasses out of each bottle… The best part about saving these for last is that maybe you get to take some back home and have a toast with your intimate loved one, or the one you want to be intimate with… Or, maybe you just need a little perk up to finish the eventful day and the predator called it early because they thought you ran out, or they passed out (whichever comes first). In the wine industry we often start with Champagne and finish the night with it too. You will at least need these bottles opened some minutes on the night before 2020 turns into the past. The Wines The Sorgente Prosecco is the perfect start to any holiday gathering. The proximity of Sorgente’s vineyards to the Alps and the Adriatic Sea brings an ideal temperature characterized by large temperature 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 being poured by the glass. The Château de Brézé Cremant de Loire is another wine in our collection that over-delivers for the price, especially when considering the exhaustive effort that went into crafting such an inexpensive sparkler from Brézé, one of the Loire Valley’s greatest terroirs. 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 taut character of the Chenin grown in the coldest sites on this already frigid hill. Vincent Charlot is a master of organic and biodynamic viticulture, and within moments of meeting him, you know you’re in for it. Descending from a long line of family cooperatives, the passionate and eager Vincent took over the family business in 2001, when he began to bottle his own wines. One of the few vignerons in the biodynamic wine world to grow and make his own biodynamic preparations, he is a strong advocate of using homeopathy to manage any malady in the vineyard. To spend the afternoon with Vincent, means you will not only witness his remarkable knowledge of the complex microcosm thoroughly embodied by his thriving vineyards, and you’ll also see the rich biodiversity that populates them, including various species of wild strawberries and carrots, bees pollinating the lavender bushes and mushrooms that sprout between the vines as if to boast the health of the surrounding terroir. It is not only a visual experience; it’s also a spiritual one. Often quirky and full of surprises, Vincent’s wines are deeply complex and layered with savory characteristics that conjure up the feeling that you are drinking the entire terroir itself, with its immense biodiversity of plants, wild fruits, flowers and animal life. "La Fruit de ma Passion"comes from the Côteaux d’Épernay and is composed of 55% Pinot Meunier, 25% Pinot Noir, and 20% Chardonnay sourced from 2 parcels: La Genette (0.55 ha) and Les Chapottes (0.55 ha) are predominantly grown on chalk soil with clay and silex rocks. After fermentation it is aged in old French barrels for eight months without a Malolactic fermentation. It’s unfined, unfiltered, and the dosage is 4.5g/L “The secret is not what I do in the cellar, it’s my vineyards and how I work them.” Maxime Ponson and his younger brother, Camille, with his own label, Paul Gadiot, work their family’s vineyards together in La Petite Montagne, a subsection of Champagne’s Montagne de Reims, located west of Reims. The Ponson vineyards are scattered between seven different communes on premier cru sites spread over 13.5 hectares. The grapes are a mix of nearly 70% Pinot Meunier, and the rest is equal parts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The bedrock here is mostly chalk and Maxime says it’s softer than the chalk found further south on the Côte des Blancs because it’s more of a tuffeau, an extremely porous, soft, sand-rich, calcium carbonate rock. Maxime believes that if every vineyard is worked according to what it needs and not in a systematic way across the range of vineyards, the diversity obtained from the best characteristics of each brings to his blending palette something to fill the gaps where others may fall short. This makes for a more complete wine that hits on a broader range of complexities than others. All grapes are whole-cluster pressed in a traditional Coquard basket press. Alcoholic fermentation lasts between ten days and two months with maximum temperatures of around 16° to 18°C. Aside from temperature control, Malolactic fermentation rarely happens and is not encouraged. The Total SO2 of any Ponson wines rarely exceeds 30 mg/L. La Petite Montagne comes from premier cru sites scattered among seventy parcels in seven different villages and is composed of 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. The base year is 2014, and is blended with 25% réserve wine. The dosage is 4g/L. Camille Ponson’s Paul Gadiot Précurseur comes from some of the best premier cru sites, a few of which are seventy years old. The blend is 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Meunier, and 25% Pinot Noir. 2012 is the first vintage and a joint effort between the brothers. The dosage is 4g/L. In 2008, Guillaume Sergent started his micro-domaine with a tiny parcel of his family’s vineyards. Along with his formal education in enology, he earned a degree in geology, making time spent with him a treat filled with in-depth details of the natural history of his vineyards and the surrounding area. Located on La Montagne des Reims, Guillaume’s minuscule 1.25 acres of vineyards are entirely committed to organic culture and plowed by horse. All the wines are all aged in old François Frères French oak barrels and finished with a small dosage—rarely more than 1g/L, minimal amounts of sulfur (45mg/L, or 45ppm) and no induced stabilization, fining or filtration. While he employs simple and straightforward, low-tech winemaking processes, Guillaume’s wines are subtly taut, ethereal and refined—a clear reflection of his mastery in the vineyards and soft touch in the cellar. Les Prés Dieu, a single harvest Blanc de Blancs premier cru composed of Chardonnay, originates from two vineyard plots on light sand and chalky soil. Both plots are within the advantageous middle of their respective hills, which brings balance to the body of wines; Les Prés faces northeast and Les Vignes Dieu, south. The May 2019 disgorgement comes entirely from the 2017 vintage, while the July 2020 disgorgement, entirely from 2018. Another Sergent wine labeled B.O. (Bouteilles Oubliées, which translates as “forgotten bottles”) signifies a lengthier bottle aging that lasts a minimum of six years.

Brendan Stater-West

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.

Arribas Wine Company

In the early summer of 2017, after harvests in the southern hemisphere, Ricardo Alves and Frederico Machado visited Bemposta for the first time together. They were on the Portuguese back roads in the Parque Natural das Arribas do Douro, with its wealth of ancient, indigenous and largely forgotten grapevines chaotically perched on the extreme slopes on the Douro river gorge, when they came upon the perfect location for their life project, the place to which they would commit their youth. They set out to rediscover and revitalize an ancient wine culture whose local home winegrowers have just barely kept the faint bloodline of their vinous history from extinction. Meeting of Might and Mind Frederico Machado (pictured above on the right), a native of Braga, one of Portugal’s larger northern cities, was born in 1986. He began his university studies at the Universidade do Minho where he studied Applied Biology from 2004 to 2006. Sidetracked by an interest in Medicine, he spent some years at the Czech Republic’s Charles University, in Plzen (or Pilsen; yes, the birthplace of the pilsner-style beer). In 2010, he was drawn back to finish his Applied Biology degree, which preceded a yearlong stint in Athens, Greece, researching protein models. But the call of the wild and his curiosity in wine began to consume his interests and he returned to Portugal to finish a Master of Enology degree by 2013 at the Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD), in Vila Real. Fred did his first harvest in the Douro with Dirk Niepoort in 2014; 2015/2016 with Susana Esteban, in Alentejo; Wine by Joe, in Oregon, 2016; Mitchelton (2017) and Tahbilk (2019), both in Victoria, Australia. He worked the 2019 harvest with Tahbilk to earn more money to support Arribas Wine Company, while Ricardo maintained the spring work back in Portugal.

Newsletter August 2022

Boca Vineyards of Davide Carlone located in the Alto Piemonte foothills of the Alps (Download complete pdf here) Prelude to our New Italian Arrivals Scene I Wines from Sicily, Campania, Liguria, Abruzzo, Lombardia, Valle d’Aosta, and even many parts of Piemonte, like Alto Piemonte, existed in relative obscurity up until less than a couple of decades ago, even for those considered “Italian Wine Specialists,” most of whom seemed to be from Italy. It was a time when boutique Italian wine importers found limited success in fine wine retail stores but couldn’t (and still can’t) break into the big-brand Italian restaurant wine lists. Slowly, they began to chip away at traditional restaurants run by Italians and the French-dominated import wine programs in restaurants outside of the corporate mold. Many restaurants that were already working heavily with boutique French wines had few openings in their small Italian section for something interesting. And of course, there were exceptions that were already ahead of the game. I remember pre-millenium sommeliers and wine-trade pros making fun of backwater areas in Italy that grew food-producing crops in-between vine rows (“what fools,” most of us blinkered wine pros thought), and that much of Italy was still nearly medieval. Many of Europe's great terroirs of that time were finely manicured dirt and rock vineyards with not much else that resembled anything natural. Cover crops were around, but we know that’s no substitute for a region’s natural biodiversity. Winegrowers that produced actual, edible food inside their vineyards for their family and animals were thought to be simple-minded. Many of us wondered how these rural Italians could possibly think they’d make high-quality, authentic, terroir-focused wines with all that mixed agricultural input from so much life and biodiversity between their rows taking energy away from the vine’s productivity. Most of us don’t think like that anymore at all.  Creative chef culture began to play with more Italian products and recipes mixed into their largely French-influenced food. These changes ever so slowly shucked sommeliers from the outdated Court of Master Sommeliers study program traditions that had little to do with indigenous Italian wines other than their glut of data-filled flashcards. The doors had finally started to creak open for small-house Italian importers to focus on this new terrain, and the momentum quietly began.  Recession in the late 2000s forced restaurants with deep cellars into a selloff. Furthering the movement toward smaller producers were the reduced budgets restaurants now had as they tried to return to normalcy and refill their cellar bins. They also shifted to much shorter lists with constantly changing selections, which not only opened the doors for those who had previously tried and failed to break in, but also for young and hungry new importers, like us. To support the uprising and force customers to venture away from Chianti, Brunello, and Super-Tuscans, some Italian restaurants even purposely began to leave them off of by-the-glass lists (and a few off their lists altogether), explaining that if they had a Chianti by the glass with the other nine reds poured, Chianti would sell 80% of the time, leaving some of the others to deteriorate before the last glass was poured. The indigenous Italian wine market cranked into full boom and it’s no longer a movement, it’s now an establishment. In 2004, after eleven years of bouncing around between more than a dozen restaurants and working three harvests in Santa Barbara wine country, I quit my final restaurant gig at the then famous Santa Barbara wine outpost, Wine Cask, where I was the Sommelier and Restaurant Manager. I sold all my possessions (except my small wine collection and some childhood collectibles) and headed off to Europe for a six-month bicycle trip through its famous cities (and hit their museums), and worked through just under a hundred wineries throughout Austria, Germany, Northern Italy, France and Northern Spain. I don’t know how many times I paged through A Moveable Feast during that time, and I finally felt like I was living that bohemian life for those six months—in a tent one day and a winegrower’s guest mansion the next; it’s a life that I often crave to reenter today. I haven’t been able to just up and quit a job like I used to, sometimes a couple times or more a year, ever since I started our wine brokerage and import company fourteen years ago.  My lengthy bike-powered pilgrimage that brought me through Barolo and Barbaresco kicked off a new beginning (or more accurately, obsession). Already lightly seasoned and interested in the epic Nebbiolo wines of the Langhe, it was the painful biking up Barolo’s steep and windy hills for visits with many famous vignaioli that gave me an even greater respect for these wines. We were often gifted with bottles from our tastings or managed to buy wines directly from the growers at a poor-bicycler discount to take back to our campsite and infuse ourselves with the intoxicating fog of Nebbiolo.  Most of the dozen or so restaurants where I worked before my time at Spago Beverly Hills and then Wine Cask had sparse selections of Italian wines but were flush with French and Californian, along with dashes from other countries here and there. Burgundy was, even in the early 2000s, still a slightly esoteric category for the general population. Often unaccounted for is the 2004 movie Sideways as one of the pivotal turning points of Burgundy’s move into the mainstream. With Pinot Noir’s place in the story as the protagonist and Merlot the antagonist—which was just too close to Cabernet for it to avoid collateral damage—it became the new global trend, absolutely crushing Syrah’s rise and bringing Merlot drinkers to an existential crisis. With many of these new Pinot enthusiasts (Noir seemed to be globally dropped from the name outside of label requirements, like Cabernet no longer needed its partner Sauvignon) with bigger budgets eventually graduating to Burgundy. It may be hard to believe for those who walked in the door in the last ten years, but wines like Beaujolais were not a significant category for even the mainstream wine enthusiast, and Jura was frightening for all but the fully committed Francophile with a high tolerance for the unusual. I admit, I myself took a while to come around to Jura wines too, but I certainly did. A Burgundy saying that must have gasped its dying breath about a decade ago that went, “Bought only on presell and closeout,” seems ridiculous now. The “presell” part of the saying remains truer than ever while the latter couldn’t be further from today’s market demand. Perhaps the start of the twenty-teens marked a turning point (at least for our company) where Burgundy importers no longer had to discount to finally get them out the door—with the exceptions of 2011 and 2014. Believe it or not, around 2009, a Beverly Hills wine merchant closed out some 2005 and 2006 wines from Jean Grivot, D’Angerville, and even some Roumier, among many other producers represented in the US by Diageo. I paid about $30-$60 per bottle, depending on the cru.  The wine world has gone completely mad on pricing. Elite and micro-producer prices are embarrassingly stupefying and never worth the price, and the great secrets once whispered only among the trade are a thing of the past, seemingly for good. Only ten or fifteen years ago you could find truly amazing deals, or at least easy access to just about every top wine from Burgundy without any additional and unusually high markups. In Southern California (surely elsewhere too, but this is where I used to snag them), D.R.C. could be found inside grocery store glass cabinets in Santa Barbara with standard markups (including La Tache and Romanée-Conti); Rousseau’s Clos Saint-Jacques and Clos de Bèze collected dust at Wally’s; Clos Rougeard and Thierry Allemand were kicked around the concrete floor at Wine House for probably an entire year before the last bottles found a home, and gray market Fourrier and Raveneau sat across each other bored for months in different corners of Wine Exchange, waiting for me to drop in and fill an entire grocery cart for $60 or $70 a bottle—a little extra on top for the time, but pennies compared to today.  Piemonte’s Langhe wine regions have also had a severe uptick in interest and investment in the last years. Like all the other great wines, I could walk into those same L.A. retailers ten years ago and get just about anything I wanted: G. Contero, G. Rinaldi, G. & B. Mascarellos, Burlotto (which had an outrageous climb from $60 to about $300 in two years), etc. The greats of Barolo (more than Barbaresco) seemingly snuck right out of reach in only a couple of years for those of us with modest and medium budgets, just as Burgundy did more than a decade ago. These unwelcome departures left many of us unquenched for the noble tastes and particular house styles. Truly great Barolo and Barbaresco can still be found at fabulous prices (just look at Poderi Colla), but there are so many with medium to high prices that are more likely to underdeliver than live up to expectations.  Fret not, dear reader! It’s not a time solely for lamentations for our past access to today’s elites! The horizon is always full of new arrivals from forgotten or overlooked lands that once shined with success before falling out of sight, many of which were showered with praise by the royalty of the past, their noble grapes preserved by generations of working-class heroes who kept them alive. But with the price increase crisis of the Langhe and soon Alto Piemonte, how can any other Piemonte region compete in quality with Barolo, Barbaresco, and the wines of Alto Piemonte? Where in Piemonte could possibly be next? My hunch might surprise you, or maybe it won’t because you’re already on the trail… La Casaccia’s Monferrato vineyards in Cella Monte Prelude to our New Italian Arrivals Scene II The Monferrato hills are filled with untapped potential. Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking: “Come again?” (Long pause) But please, allow me to explain. How exciting can Monferrato possibly be? Does the market even take this region seriously? These were regular thoughts when we first began to focus on importing Italian wine in 2016. Prior to then, my company that predated The Source brokered Italian wines in California for almost a decade with a few different Italian importers. The importers we worked with played a quiet but influential role in the emergence of backwater Italian wines. One was strong in Italian and French “natural” wine producers before natural wine stormed the market. (Eventually he went out of business, partially because he was way ahead of his time, and the other part was that in the end he was a crook.) The other continues to successfully run a collection focused on clean craftsmanship with most of the selection from the Italian road less traveled. Each had their token price-point Monferrato producer or two, usually a couple Barbera d’Asti, but not much more.  I never set out to plant a big flag in the Monferrato/Asti area. Like the Italian wine importers I once worked with, I was in search of a token Asti producer to supply us with some value Barbera. Then something happened, something that has happened many times before: I witnessed potential that needed a strong and friendly nudging. Sette’s Vino Bianco Exciting Potential? How? Why? Who? Monferrato’s first advantage starts with the fact that they have few expectations for the wines they produce. (Probably the most pertinent is the expectation that they should have good prices and be cheaper than Langhe wines.) Most importantly, many don’t play the Nebbiolo game, so they don’t have the burdensome weight of navigating today’s grape royalty. Nebbiolo-land comes with familial and regional baggage. The iron-grip of the most recent generational lines that built the family up from the poorest area of Italy to one of its wealthiest isn’t keen to let the kids wander too far off the path. Ok, they can tinker with Dolcetto, or even Barbera, but Nebbiolo used for their Barolos and Barbarescos? The vignaioli of Barolo and Barbaresco are no longer just grape farmers and winemakers, they’re bigtime businesspeople, and their task now is to push the same rock, the same direction, every vintage. Monferrato’s fewer expectations can lead to freer thinking as a community. Freer thinking leads to greater experimentation. Experimentation leads to breakthroughs. Breakthroughs change the game. When games change, people follow. Monferrato has their own historical grapes, which means they won’t always be second or third division Nebbiolo land. They can be first division Barbera, first division Freisa, first division Ruchè, and, what I believe could be the most significant category uptick, they undoubtedly will be first division Grignolino—a variety that was considered grape royalty for centuries.  Another advantage is that they have the terroir with enough talent to go beyond “good value wine” and into the world-class. The ingredients are there: limestone and chalk with extremely active calcium, sandy limestone, gently sloping hills (preferential to steep ones with looming climate change toward hotter temperatures) with great variations of soil grain to put grapes on their most favorable soil types (Grignolino on sand, Freisa on clay, Barbera in the middle), tremendous biodiversity with swaths of indigenous forest between vineyard parcels and sometimes right in the middle of them along with a multitude of intended crops (well beyond the occasional hazelnut grove as seen in much of the Langhe’s prized vineyard areas where grapes aren’t suitable), and a climate that’s conducive to organic and biodynamic vineyard culture. Vineyard soil cut demonstrating the layered geology at La Casaccia of limestone, chalk, limestone-rich clay and siliceous sands The x-factor here is that Monferrato’s growers surely include ambitious and creative kids with dreams to build. Their parents and grandparents lived in relative isolation in this Italian backcountry while other nearby regions went from poverty to wealth in a single generation. Most of the Gen Xers are in the family driver’s seat, the Millennials are working side by side with mom and dad, and the Zoomers are at school, and all three of these generations are exposed to the world around them through their social media feeds. They have witnessed the incredible success of Langhe. They see that their northerly wine neighbor Alto Piemonte is not only rising, but it has also arrived in a big way. They realize the potential of the natural wine movement and many will want a piece of it. (But do it cleanly, please!). There are now openings to make whatever style of wine they want because there are fewer shackles; they can stay and improve on the traditional course passed down for generations and/or get creative in their own way and veer from tradition. Whatever the path they choose, I think they will have more freedom than the average kids of Barolo or Barbaresco, in fact, more freedom than any other Nebbiolo-focused region. Another factor is immigration, and I don’t mean people from other countries, but those from neighboring Langhe. With the increase in frequency of the Piemontese selling their most prized vineyards to foreign investors for fortunes nearly impossible to recoup in the wine business (that is, without flipping the property to the next high-bidding trophy hunter), how does any financially challenged Langhe youngster filled with inspiration and great knowhow (from a family that works for the landowner or in the cellar) get out of first gear? They have to move.  This is what happened with the young Gianluca Colombo and his business partner, Gino Della Porta, with their new Nizza-based winery established in 2017. Gianluca is a consultant for many reputable Langhe producers, and he also makes his own small production Barolo wine. Gino is a mastermind, connected throughout the wine world, responsible for helping develop one of Italy’s most important importers, and helping to manage some of Italy’s most recognizable small cantinas. Only minutes into meeting this two-person comedy act, with their incredible proficiency and ambition for their project, I knew they would be a force; not only a force for their own project, but I am sure they, and others walking the same road into Monferrato, will inspire other producers in the Monferrato hills to break through the glass ceiling of their own making.  Two New Monferrato Producer Snapshots (Their wines covered in greater detail further below) Sette's Gino Della Porta and Gianluca Colombo Sette, Nizza Monferrato The Monferrato/Asti area is Piemonte’s new wine laboratory, and experimentation is extensive at Sette, where they’re looking to expose new dimensions of their local indigenous varieties. The comedic and talented duo of the experienced wine trade pro, Gino Della Porta, and well-known enologist, Gianluca Colombo, founded Sette in 2017 with the purchase of a 5.8-hectare hill in Bricco di Nizza, just outside of Nizza Monferrato. Immediately, a full conversion to organic farming began, followed by biodynamic starting in 2020, the latter being a vineyard culture still considered somewhat radical in these parts. The wines are crafted and full of vibrant energy with focus and only a soft polish. There’s the slightly turbid and lightly colored, juicy, fruity, minerally Grignolino, and their two serious but friendly Barberas, among other goodies that will trickle in with time. Sette’s game-changing progressive approach and delicious wines (with total eye-candy labels) should ripple through this historic backcountry and bring greater courage to the younger generations to break out of the constraints of the past and move full throttle into the future. La Casaccia's Rava family, Elena, Margherita and Giovanni La Casaccia, Casale Monferrato Even in Italy it may be impossible to find a vignaiolo who emits as much bubbling enthusiasm and pure joy for their work than La Casaccia’s Giovanni Rava; la vita è bella for Giovanni and Elena Rava, and their children, Margherita and Marcello. Working together in a life driven by respect for their land and heritage, they also offer accommodations in their restored bed and breakfast for travelers looking for a quieter Italian experience. Their vines are organically farmed and scattered throughout the countryside on many different slopes with strong biodiversity of different forms of agriculture and untamed forests teeming with wild fruit trees. Their traditionally crafted range of wines grown on soft, stark white chalk with layers of eroded sandstone are lifted, complex and filled with the humble yet exuberant character of the Rava family. New Italian Wine Arrivals Monferrato Reds Grignolino is coming. I don’t just mean that we have some arriving this month (which we do), I mean Grignolino is coming. We have seen a considerable increase in interest since our first batch arrived from Luigi Spertino, followed by Crotin’s—the latter of which easily fits into the by-the-glass range, while the former does not. We went from about a hundred cases between the two each in our first years to more than triple that this year with none left in stock six months after their arrival. Grignolino is coming, I say! This year, with the addition of our two new producers, Sette and La Casaccia, we have doubled that quantity just for the California market, and it's only double because that’s all the producers could provide. Grignolino is the perfect Piemontese grape variety for today’s market. Its pale color is enticing and reminiscent of fresher vintage Nebbiolos with those unique Giuseppe Mascarello-red tones but with an even lighter hue. Seduced by their constant emissions of pheromonal scents fluttering out of the glass, accented with dainty, sweet red and slightly purple flowers, tart but just ripe berries and a little flirt of that indescribable but inimitable Piemonte red wine spice and earth, I remain smitten, if not completely infatuated. Superficially, simply made Grignolino is invitingly poundable, delicious fun, but in more intimate encounters its interior strength reveals firmness, respectability, nobility.  Mauro Spertino’s Grignolino, labeled with his late father’s name, Luigi Spertino, is what spurred my crush on this grape. Mauro (pictured above) has the magic touch surely mostly learned from his father, who revolutionized the method in which to navigate this charming grape that has a thin skin but more tannin-rich seeds than other Piemontese grapes, including Nebbiolo. Mauro is a bit of a magician in the cellar, so there’s no doubt that he took it to the next level to where it is today. Many think his Grignolino leads the category in Piemonte, and I agree. One answer for tannin management with this seed-heavy grape is to employ shorter macerations with pressing once the interior grape membranes break down, but prior to fully exposing the seeds to the alcohol when the extraction of these harder tannins can happen. With this approach, one can also pick earlier to highlight the variety’s natural charm with an even redder, crunchier spectrum of fruit ripeness—for me, the hallmark characteristics I think serve this wine better than those with more wood contact and ripeness on the vine. All of this makes for a wine with a lot of pleasure while retaining its regional DNA. Grignolino seems to me to be close in its ethereal characteristics to Nebbiolo. Grignolino’s time in the sun is on the morning horizon. Ideal for today’s consumer in search of lighthearted but authentic and terroir-rich wines, it offers the classic cultural tastes and smells of the Piemontese wine, but under the right touch with much less pain. Piemontese reds are known to beg for food, but despite Grignolino’s naturally high acidity and Dolcetto’s bigger tannins (another underrated, delicious Piemontese grape) they don’t need food to deliver harmony and are quite fun to drink alone. Both are immediately accessible and fair well when made with a simple approach in the cellar, unmarked by wood aging if wood is employed at all.  According to Ian D’Agata in his book (a must for anyone serious about Italian wine, or just simply interested), Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, the Grignolino wines were prized as far back as the thirteenth century but lost favor in the last thirty years and were replanted with other grapes that had a stronger market value in the Langhe and elsewhere. D’Agata pushes the merits of Grignolino in his book and loves the wines, and I understand why. I’m only a little disappointed that it took so long for me to see its light! It seems to have all the ingredients to really thrive in today’s market that’s more than willing to pay for the highest levels of nobility and extremely fine subtlety in the sip. I would even venture a guess that if Grignolino had held court in prized Langhe vineyards that with today’s swing for many from power to elegance, it may have held the number two spot just below Nebbiolo, leaving Barbera and Dolcetto to duke it out for third. I think Grignolino can be that good but clearly within the more gentle wine context, it can have big tannin and acidity. What brave soul would dare rip out Nebbiolo in a prime position in Barolo or Barbaresco to see what happens with Grignolino in its perfect spot? Any takers?? Maybe many would need to get over their addiction to the smell of money first… In places like north Monferrato, under the labels of Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese, they can be gorgeous and with, on the average, a little more substance due to their greater limestone marl content mixed in with sand than Grignolino d’Asti’s sandier soils, without losing their freshness and charm. Of course, these regional soil elements vary from plot to plot, so broad generalizations often need to be thrown out the window. Between the Grignolino from our first producer from the area, Crotin, followed by Spertino’s game-changing wines, and now wines from both La Casaccia and Sette, we have a very special collection.  Starting with what I perceive as the most elegant and light of all these perfumed and somewhat dainty Grignolinos is Luigi Spertino’s Grignolino d’Asti. About as lithe as a red wine can be, its light red, slightly orange-tinted hue is pale enough that in a dimly lit room you might think there’s nothing in the glass until you hold it up to a light to illuminate its striking color. Despite the lightness of the wine, a rosé it is not. The palate is a showcase of fragrant classic varietal notes of fresh berries and subtle but sweet, darker-hued flowers, and its light but firm texture marks the separation from what a rosé would maintain, as do the complexities of the grape skin phenols forged through the fermentation with a longer skin contact (which is about eight to twelve days, depending on the year). After four or five months in steel, the wine is bottled.  All four are elegant, but perhaps next in line for the most elegant is Sette’s Grignolino Piemonte DOC, a wine that will not arrive until some months from now. Its delightful turbidity and time spent in Tava amphoras for eight months coupled with its sandy soils brings a more lightly creamy texture and body resulting in a more playful interaction. (Tava amphoras are cooked at extremely high temperatures which tightens the porosity significantly over those cooked at lower temperatures, leading to customized micro-oxygenation level for Sette’s amphoras that have similar porosity to that of a 15/20hl oak barrel and also impart no taste to the wines.) My first bottle of their 2020 convinced me that I could easily make it one of my weekly pulls from the cellar. Riding the line between well-polished, medium structure and texture, this finely tuned Grignolino is bottled fun, just like the owners of their project, Gino and Gianluca. Unfortunately, similar to Spertino’s Grignolino, it will be in short supply when it arrives in early fall.  La Casaccia’s Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese “Poggeto” could be viewed as sharing the middle spot with Sette on the elegance chart. There may be no region more historically famous for high quality Grignolino that still focuses on this grape as a category leader than the areas around Casalese. I’m newly addicted to the style of the La Casaccia wines crafted with the mind, big heart and happiness of Giovanni Rava and his wife, Elena, and their charming, contemplative daughter Margherita. Always grown on the top of the hills on the sandiest soils loaded with chalk, the wines are filled with the spirit of deep joy and generosity of the family delivered with impeccable craftsmanship. La Casaccia’s style may be the most classical in the sense that they don’t go to the extremes as Sette with their modern touch of turbidity coupled explosive aroma, or Spertino’s sushi-style Grignolino, but rather an ode to the traditional craft in search of a spherical balance throughout the entire wine.  Crotin’s Grignolino d’Asti “San Patelu” may be the most glycerol and full-colored but bright red for this naturally pale variety between the four. The Grignolino at this cantina always shows the nuances of the vintage but typically leads with dense but bright perfumes of the grape’s classical notes, a little Ruchè-like in perfume and weight, in a Burlotto-esque, Verduno Pelaverga way, senza le note di pepe bianco. Crotin’s Grignolino usually shows the greater structure between the group, likely a hallmark of their comparatively colder region, and the direction of the family with the advice of Cristiano Garella, their consulting enologist with a sharp eye for detail and an unflappable commitment to finding the truth in wine without applying any greasepaint for the international market. Ruchè caught me off-guard. I don’t recall tasting this grape prior to a few years ago at the cellar of Crotin with some of our staff and the other co-owner and General Manager of The Source, Donny Sullivan, and I don’t think anyone who tasted some would forget it. I saw a bottle of Ruchè sitting around in the restaurant of their agriturismo with a label on it I didn’t recognize, so I asked about it. Federico Russo, the eldest of the brotherhood (and seemingly their leader), happily pulled the cork as he told me that they made the wine for that winery. As explosive as any wine can be out of glass, it had an array of perfumed bright red berries, red ripe stone fruit and spice brightened my face with delight. My first thought wasn’t whether I liked it or not, but was a realization that today’s market interested in unapologetically perfumy and delicious wines could blister through a wine like the one in my glass, wowing first-timers with its pleasure bludgeon. (This especially applies to winebar by-the-glass programs.) About two minutes later I blurted out, “This wine is delicious,” with Donny nodding his head in time with mine, scrunching his eyes and giving me his half-smile that says, “This is a no-brainer.” So I asked Federico, “Can you make some for us?” Shortly after returning to Portugal, Federico sent me a six-pack of the Ruchè producers he thought were best representative of the region to give me a better context. Most of the wines were quite high in alcohol, which made them harder to appreciate than the one he made, which was 13.5%. Crotin’s 2021 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato “Monterosso” is the second year they’ve bottled the wine that they had already been making, this time in their cellar under their own label. Our first year we brought in fifty cases to test the market and, after a strong showing that made short work of the 2020, this year we have more than double the quantity, though we could’ve easily bought a couple hundred cases more if they’d had the stock. The grapes come from an organically farmed site mostly on an alternation of contrasting red soils with a lot of iron and chalky limestone. The wine is raised in stainless steel vats until the following summer for bottling. Crotin’s style contains this flamboyant variety; it’s nuanced rather than pushy, and it’s easy to say yes to a second glass, unlike five of the six he sent me that clocked fifteen degrees or more of alcohol. I believe Ruchè has an opportunity in today’s market, but from a long-game perspective, the other producers may need to reel in the punchy fruit and spice, otherwise the grape may burn brightly on the market for a minute only to fizzle out just as quickly. After Grignolino, Freisa slowly worked its way into my favor, and one day I met the one I wanted to marry. I never paid much attention to it other than being privy to its genetic relation to Nebbiolo but being known for lacking the same level of finesse, depth and ageability. What put Freisa into my radar initially were the ones from the great producers like G. Rinaldi, G. and B. Mascarellos, Cavallotto, Brovia, and Vietti, who all keep it in their ranges still. (They must still have them for a good reason, no?) It’s true that youthful Freisa can approach with the grace of an angry bull, but in the right hands, it’s untamed nature can at least be harnessed and led toward a gentler appeal so that maybe it ages into something unexpectedly wonderful. I have a hunch that Freisa will eventually gain the respect of the general international community of Italian wine lovers. It just needs the right ambassadors, although the mentioned Barolo producers are not a bad start! However, it’s merely a guess because I don’t know, but I bet the Freisa still grown in Barolo and Barbaresco is positioned on the vineyard in subordinate locations to Nebbiolo. Few winegrowers can justify keeping Freisa in a prime time Nebbiolo spot, if not only for historical preservation, then for financial reasons. I don’t plan to stand on the hilltop to shout the universal merits of Freisa as I will with Grignolino (although there is one that swept me off my feet), but at the very least I’d say it’s an inexpensive entry-ticket to authentic Piemontese reds that covers all the bases and can under the right shepherding and prime vineyard position yield very special results. In a Decanter article I read about Freisa, Ian D’Agata is quoted as saying that aged Freisa is sometimes hard to distinguish from Nebbiolo. Despite my lack of experience with this, I believe him. Crotin’s Freisa d’Asti is one of those wines crafted in a traditional way, despite spending all of its time in concrete and stainless steel. What I mean by traditional (which I don’t think was specifically concrete aging for a short period as they do) is that the wine is not vinified to embellish the fruit. It’s built on structure and subtle aromas and in context within the full range of Crotin’s other reds—Barbera, Grignolino, Ruchè, and now some Nebbiolo—it’s the most savory and least fruity wine in the range, although it still has plenty of fruit that comes through more when enjoyed independently of the other wines. This version is for the old-guard Italian wine lovers, and for the price it makes it all the more attractive for the same seasoned buyer who gets sticker shock around every corner of the Italian section of the wine shop now; well, except with wines from the Monferrato hills! I don’t know what Giovanni Rava did with La Casaccia’s Freisa Monferrato “Monfiorenza,” but it swept me off my feet. Their Grignolino is lovely and one of the best concrete-aged, fresh, beautiful, and substantive wines in the Grignolino world, but their Freisa rendered me speechless with an ear-to-ear smile the first time I drank a bottle of the 2019 last summer with the family on a breezy and warm summer night. I didn’t know Freisa could do that! I went to La Casaccia to ask Giovanni for their Grignolino’s hand in marriage but left the alter with his Freisa! That day I also had the best wild cherries in my life—clearly a day to remember. I’m not sure about this wine’s ageability, but who cares; it’s a wine to feast on in its youth and wait as patiently as possible for the next scrumptious batch. We received only 60 boxes of the 2019 vintage but a lot more of the 2021 is in route soon. I think the 2021 is going to be just as good. Despite its non-native status in Monferrato, Barbera is the local sheriff and the breadwinner. Apparently, the variety originated in southern Italy centuries ago (perhaps Sicily or Campania, but the debate about its origin and actual arrival to Piemonte is still alive) and began its mass proliferation sometime after phylloxera hit. Today, it’s ubiquitous in much of Piemonte and there is a lot of it in the marketplace, which, thankfully, keeps the prices down, even from producers in Barolo and Barbaresco. Barbera is indeed a bit of an outsider in Piemonte. It’s easy to spot in a blind tasting of Piemontese wines because of its abundance of acidity and lack of tannins—the exact structural inverse of Dolcetto. It also typically requires a greater alcohol potential to achieve phenolic ripeness that moves it away from hardened tannins (the few that it has) and the potential for unbalanced high acidity. Barbera is also uniquely suited for its best results with warm summer weather during the daytime and nighttime, the opposite of the others Piemontese grapes that need the daytime heat but colder nights to reach their heights—another clue to its possible origin from the south where day and nighttime temperatures don’t fluctuate like those in the north or deep inside the Apennine range.  Monferrato is a Piemontese territory that dates to medieval times and includes much of today’s provinces of Asti and Alessandria. It’s a little confusing how they separate the region out, but think Toscana with its two main wine provinces, Siena and Firenze (although there are ten Toscana provinces in total). We have delicious Barbera wines coming in from all four of our producers, but they are also all quite different. Both Crotin’s Barbera d'Asti and La Casaccia’s Barbera del Monferrato “Guianìn” are classically styled Monferrato Barbera without much “hand in the wines.” Both are raised in neutral, non-wood vessels and grown on calcareous sands with Casaccia’s a higher content of chalk. Perhaps Crotin’s is more defined in acidic profile and slightly denser body with darker fruits only nuanced by red. La Casaccia’s is gentler and less compact but with the same depth as Crotin’s. Our two Asti producers of Barbera, Sette and Spertino, make two very different wines inside its most revered appellation, Nizza, the newest member (since 2008) of the Italian DOCG family. Nizza is special and what many consider to be the leader for this grape variety for the entire globe. As many writers add to that shared belief, the Langhe could be the top spot were it not for the prized exposures reserved entirely for Nebbiolo—and rightly so! Sette produces two different Barberas, both grown inside the Nizza DOCG, within the commune Nizza Monferrato, from the same 5.8ha plot in conversion to organic (2017) and biodynamic culture (2020) on a south face composed of calcareous marls and sandstones: one bottled as Barbera d’Asti, made from vines with between 20-40 years old on chalk and sandstone, and the Nizza (also composed entirely of Barbera; pictured above), from mostly 80-year-old vines on limestone, chalk and sandstone. For both Barbera d'Asti and Nizza they use an old Piedmontese winemaking technique of waiting for the must to reach 10-11 degrees of alcohol and then use a wooden grid to submerge the cap for a more gentle infusion approach for the latter two-thirds (or more) of the maceration time to softly extract while the wines reach their textural balance as it is tasted daily. This process lasts between 30 to 50 days, depending on the vat and the year, with Nizza always a bit longer than the Barbera d’Asti. Following the pressing, the Barbera d’Asti makes at least a year of aging in the cellar with concrete vats prior to bottling and release, while the Nizza is aged for a year in 30hl Stockinger barrels followed by six months in concrete. The result for both of these wines is their softer structure than the typical Barberas from the Langhe, but also with more savory notes and more profound depth. Sette’s Barberas are extremely serious wines with massive potential. They are on the more technically tight craft side without sacrificing their approachability and friendliness. Sette is an extremely promising new cantina. Spertino’s Barbera “La Bigia” is another demonstration of Mauro’s alchemistic touch and the unique signature on his wines. I never imagined that a Barbera could taste and evoke such emotion as his, and in this fuller style. He somehow manages to create duality between bright light and deep darkness in the same wine. Its twenty-year-old vines grow in sandy calcareous soil and the grapes spend around twenty days fermenting, then the wine is aged in the cellar for half a year in old 5000-liter botte. Aromas of a dense, fresh wet green forest, with taut but mature wild black berries, black currant and a potpourri of underbrush swirl out of the glass. The palate is powerful, supple and refined, like the final polish on a marble sculpture. The naturally bright acidity inherent to Barbera keeps this brooding wine that tips the scales in alcohol content toward modern-day Barolo while remaining in perfect harmony. Like all of Mauro’s wines, this is singular unto itself and must be experienced. Monferrato Whites I didn’t realize it until I began to write, but the only three white wines we import from Monferrato are all very different and a little atypical for the region.  Mauro Spertino’s range is unique in that he has both wines that are full, powerful and still graceful, while others are ethereal, subtle and as light as can be while still maintaining a clear voice of their terroirs. Spertino’s Metodo Classico fits into the latter realm. Mauro’s 2018 was a thrilling start for his first try at it (but still not surprising with this guy’s golden touch), and the arriving 2019 is a natural step up for a few reasons: it was a better year for Pinot Noir than the hot 2018 vintage, and he had one more year under his belt to make his preferred micro-tweaks. The vines were recently planted toward the top of his extremely steep, sandy calcareous vineyard in Mombercelli, but cleverly placed on its north face to preserve as much freshness as possible. The wine is vinified in stainless steel and spends twenty-four months on its lees before disgorgement. It’s very pretty wine. La Casaccia’s Chardonnay is grown on almost pure chalk and it tastes like it. It’s a fabulous alternative for those in search of terroir-dense limestone Chardonnays with a smile-inducing price tag. It’s probably true that no one is rushing out in search of Monferrato Chardonnay, but if zippy, fresh, and minerally Chardonnay is your thing, you should give it a go. It’s loaded with all of that indescribable magic imparted by extremely calcareous soils—think Burgundy’s stainless-steel Chablis, or Hautes-Côtes Chardonnays. I expect our first batch to evaporate at its bargain price.   We know Moscato as a still wine is one of the hardest sells. Once I received Sette’s Bianco entirely from Moscato, I was skeptical as I pulled the cork. (Though its gorgeously inviting label, pictured further above in the newsletter, could sell just about anything inside.) I tried so hard not to like it before tasting it because I could already imagine it on our closeout list. However, once in the glass you may share my same surprise. The annoying, cloying characteristics of Moscato are absent and all that’s left are its most flamboyant traits, toned down by its eight-hour skin contact before fermentation, its aging in Tava amphoras, and its light leesy haze. There are so many pleasantries it’s hard to dislike, even if it’s not your typical style. Stylistically, there may not be a much better pairing for nigiri sushi with its floral and gentle spice notes, and texture similar to unfiltered sake, a perfect match for sticky rice under raw fish with ginger and wasabi. Alto Piemonte Fabio Zambolin, Costa della Sesia/Lessona My visit last year was business as usual, nothing particularly new to report, just another good time with Fabio and his delicious wines. But a couple months ago during our visit, I found him and his tiny production overwhelmed by orders from all over Italy. Restaurants were asking for unusually high quantities of both wines—apparently the result of a series of tastings in Rome and Milan. Last year we took greater quantities before the demand went through the roof and we have the same this year despite the newfound fan base. Lucky us!  Both of Zambolin’s new arrivals are 2019s, a Piemontese vintage we’ve all waited for since the grapes came off the vine. It lives up to the hype and I suggest if you want these you should speak up soon. We are not yet sure if that frenzy from Italy will carry over into the US too. As many of you who already follow Fabio, you know that his garage-sized operation and his tiny plots of land are in and around one of Alto Piemonte’s most historically celebrated regions, Lessona. Fabio has a bureaucratic challenge in that his winery is out of the Lessona appellation but his vineyards are inside its borders. This makes his wine only qualify as Costa della Sesia appellation. His Costa della Sesia Nebbiolo “Vallelonga” is purely Lessona from a terroir perspective. The overall style here is finesse over power, a combination offered to the wine because of its sandy volcanic soils, and, of course, Fabio’s stylistic preferences. Zambolin’s Costa della Sesia “Feldo” is also grown inside of Lessona but doesn’t adhere to the grape proportions required to fit within Lessona’s DOC rules. A field blend of old-vine Nebbiolo, Vespolina and Croatina, I never imagined this blended Piemontese wine without a dominant grape variety would be one of our top sellers; Feldo continues to prove my first instincts wrong with every delivery. It has gobs of festive aromas and flavors (at least compared to other wines in an area known for often producing more solemn, strict wines in their youth), with even a dash of pretension—it’s well-made Northern Italian glou glou. There’s a lot of seriousness tucked in there too—not surprisingly considering the perfectionism with which Fabio organically farms his vineyards and his meticulous work in the cellar. David Carlone, Boca We finally have our second batch of Davide Carlone’s wines arriving. The first set was gobbled up in a craze during my visit to California in November, when I showed them on three different occasions with our teams between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. (Big shout out to SD! The restaurant scene down there is happening; I was impressed.) Most of the buyers looked bewildered, like “Where have these been all my life?” I thought the same thing the first time I tasted Davide’s new wines too and was convinced he is the real deal; someone to contend with, and someone to know. His newest releases will not disappoint. When we first started to work with Davide only a little more than a year ago, there was plenty of wine to buy—post-Pandemic stocks. But since then we’ve already been moved into the allocation game because of the high demand.  We were able to circle back for some more of the very successful 2018 Croatina, but the rest are new vintage wines. The 2019 Vespolina was one of the stars of our first showing and for many tasters it was their the top single-varietal bottling of Vespolina. The follow-up vintage, 2020 Vespolina is strong despite tough competition from the glorious 2019. The 2019 Nebbiolo is a shoo-in: it’s one of best vintages on record with an ideally lengthy season (with the well-known Alto Piemonte enologist, Cristiano Garella, claiming it was the best of his professional life that started in 1998); it is perhaps the world’s most compelling red grape among only one or two contenders for top spot. It delivers high-altitude freshness with full solar exposure contrasted by cold Alpine nights grown on volcanic rock, a multitude of special biotypes (about eight or nine in this vintage with more to come), and utterly pure Nebbiolo goodness raised in steel. The 2018 Boca is a spice rack of Nebbiolo biotypes (minimum of 85% Nebbiolo at Carlone) with 15% Vespolina. Both go through spontaneous fermentations on the skins (fully destemmed) for around a month for the Nebbiolo, and the Vespolina for 14-18 days. The wine is aged in 25hl Slovenian oak botti for eighteen months and then prepared for bottling. The different biotypes from all over Piemonte give this wine a great breadth of complexity, allowing it to hit a broad chromatic range of octaves from tenor to baritone to bass, all in wonderful harmony. However, the biotypes with bigger structure (mostly from the south, in Langhe) are reserved for this wine, while the more delicate ones are used for Adele. The 2017 Boca “Adele” prompted me to personally get in the game with Carlone by cellaring some wine in the US and Portugal. Boca Adele, named after Davide’s grandmother and his niece, is the higher toned of the two Bocas. It is made the same as the Boca appellation wine and is also a blend of 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina but is mostly composed of the picotener family of Nebbiolo biotypes which typically impart more elegance and softness to the wine than the clones from further south. Adele’s final blend is decided by blind tastings, but Davide and Cristiano tend to favor the picotener biotypes (particularly 423 and 415, which they describe as having wild fruit with a greater retro nasal finish and a stronger vibrancy that lingers longer on the palate). It’s a refreshing hallmark of some producers in Alto Piemonte, particularly many who work with Cristiano, that the top wines are often the most elegant and sometimes the lowest in alcohol, whereas many regions continue to place the “bigger” wines at the top of their hierarchy. Ioppa, Ghemme Ioppa continues their steady rise under the direction of enologist Cristiano Garella who was asked to work with the family in 2016 just prior to the unexpected passing of their visionary owner, Gianpiero Ioppa. Cristiano made an immediate impact and today we benefit from more than five years of his contribution to help them sculpt their wines. The 2021 Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo Rosé “Rusin” is one of the most consistent and refined, pure Nebbiolo rosés out of Piemonte, and their extremely pretty and upfront 2021 Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo makes these two incredibly good for by-the-glass programs, or when slightly chilled down for a warm summer night when Nebbiolo beckons you but the big hitters are too much. It’s often that I comment with many new arrivals that there are severe limitations, but I am happy to say that we have a good supply of these two wines that should last two or three months—perfect for the second half of the warm season. We have anticipated the arrival of Ioppa’s 2016 Ghemme for a long time. As mentioned, it was the first year it had Cristiano’s full attention and he and Andrea Ioppa applied some slight adjustments, the smallest of which can change things immensely and up the game. Prior to his arrival Ioppa already made very good and extremely ageable wines but their rusticity and unbridled tannins called for a decade in the cellar before release. Today, those rustic tannins are curbed earlier on, but still the Ioppas are clever enough to hold back their top wines for so long before release. We all know that 2016 was a banner year for Piemonte, especially for Nebbiolo, which makes up 85% of this blend with the remainder 15% Vespolina. After a mere four years of aging in large 25-30hl Slavonian botte, it spends an additional two in bottle prior to release. Their Ghemme cru sites, Santa Fe, composed of a deep clay and alluvial soil, and Balsina, a light mixture of clay with more sandy alluvium deposited by glaciers, are mixed together from a larger portion of younger vines, resulting in a brighter and more vigorous Ghemme than the two single-site bottlings. As always, Ioppa’s top wines need a good aeration before digging in to find their best moments. Lombardia Togni Rebaioli, Valcamonica A two-and-a-half-hour drive east of Alto Piemonte lies Erbanno, the village of the super “natural” winegrower, Enrico Togni (pictured above). One of my new favorites, Enrico dances to the beat of his own drum.  To say this, and to add that he’s“a true original” is perhaps a bit cliché, but for some who carry their full meaning, it’s perfectly fitting. A deep lover of nature and animals, he names his sheep and considers them his friends and visits them every morning and night. His verdant, terraced limestone vineyards tucked underneath sheer cliffs are lush with nature from the constant rain, filled with a cornucopia of vines, fruit and nut trees, potato rows, and grains with various garden spots scattered about. He believes that his other agricultural outputs are as important to him as his wines, explaining that as a farmer it’s silly that one should make only wine and no other products, and that once one focuses on a large grape production they move too far away from a healthy, natural ecosystem. But with Enrico and his mostly controlled chaos comes unexpected things, like the first vintage we imported with many labels on the wrong bottles—cases of three different wines with the wrong labels… I knew him personally at that point and the quantity of mislabeled bottles wasn’t enough to create a big problem, and it brought his Loki-esque touch straight to the market, even from afar. Enrico crafts some of the most delightfully fun and beautifully etched examples of lower alcohol wines with real substance—wines that glide smoothly on the palate but leave the mark of their terroir in the wake of each sip. First to discuss in the batch of new arrivals is his  2019 Vino Rosato “Martina.” Made entirely of Erbanno, a wine considered part of the Lambrusco family (an extremely large and not entirely related umbrella of grape varieties), there is no doubt that it’s one of the most captivating and uniquely complex rosés I have frequently imbibed. During a visit to Enrico’s cellar, some of our staff, JD Plotnick, Tyler Kavanaugh, and I were wowed by the 2020 rosé we tasted out of concrete. For Tyler, it made his top five list of the entire trip, and it made my top fifteen wines of my spring trip covered in last month’s newsletter. A rare rosé worth seeking.  Enrico also makes a regular red wine version of 100% Erbanno labeled as Vino Rosso “San Valentino.” The incoming vintage is 2020, a clearer and finer expression of Erbanno than the 2019. Dark in color but zippy and lightly textured, it's earthy, brambly and woodsy, with foraged dark berries and welcoming green notes. Erbanno, also known as Lambrusco Maestri, has thick dark skin and is very resistant to fungus, a built-in protection needed in this rainy part of the world. Interestingly, Enrico says that it rains more here in the Valcamonica during the summer than the winter. Last is Enrico’s 2020 Nebbiolo “1703.” I adore Nebbiolo—top billing in the world of grapes for me—and I especially love the ones that don’t knock me out with high alcohol. Enrico’s sits at 13.2%, and it’s the only one of its kind to be found commercially in his area. Enrico found some Nebbiolo in his father’s old vineyard and decided to propagate. Like us (and I mean you, too), he’s infatuated with the variety but also struggles with the rising alcohol levels and easy access to the good ones. He needed some for the house, so he planted. (At the time, he didn’t know what biotypes were but later learned they are lampia, michet and chiavennasca.) Fortunately for us, he has far more than he can drink with his family—including his partner, Cinzia, and their young daughter, Martina, who apparently has the best palate in the house! Valcamonica is a glacial valley with limestone cliffs on one side and volcanic hills on the other. Enrico’s terraced vineyards are on limestone, facing south. The style speaks to this rock type with its full but balanced and elegant mouthfeel, that matches the cooler climate and the green of the countryside. It’s as elegant and subtle as Nebbiolo comes, and highly expressive of its landscape with its cold stone, refreshing demeanor, and all the telltale notes of classic Nebbiolo.

A. Rafanelli: What Goes Around,…

Everyone in the wine business got their start with a few memorable bottles, and believe it or not, mine were from California, back when I was nineteen and had just moved to Arizona from Nowhereville (Kalispell), Montana. It doesn’t matter where you start, you’ll always have a soft spot for the wines you got to know in those early years. One of those wines happened to be Zinfandel from great producers in California, like Williams Selyem, Ridge and Rafanelli. Back in the mid-90s, Zinfandel was hotter than Pinot Noir, Syrah, and probably only fifth in the fine wine division behind Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, with Viognier having a temporary uptick. The trends in California seem to change from one season to the next, probably more frequently than in any wine region in the world. But as a standalone economic global power, California residents consume enough of the state’s wines to keep it booming regardless of what trends come into play. One of my closest friends, psychiatrist Reuben Weinenger, once told me, “when you are surrounded by chaos, you need to stand still.” Wine trends can be chaotic, and there are producers who follow them and those who stay their own course. These producers who work in the eye of the storm make small changes along the way, but instead of executing radical alterations to fit the market, they focus their energies on mastering their craft. This way, they’re able to grow while keeping their identity intact. The Rafanelli’s are one of those rocks from the annals of old-school, traditional California wine. They’ve hardly changed a thing over the years, and every bottle brings me back to the first time I tasted them in 2001, when I started working at Spago Beverly Hills with the late, legendary Master Sommelier, Michael Bonaccorsi. Smack dab in the middle of the age of extraction, Mike remained committed to that old California taste and Rafanelli filled the Zinfandel department perfectly. Zinfandel’s reputation needs a reboot from its association with over-extraction, monstrous alcohol and marmalade fruit, not to mention good ol’ White Zinfandel, a trend that has thankfully come and gone from the fine wine world—in the 90’s even the very best restaurants had it on the list. If you’re going to add Zinfandel to your list then you should double down on your Aussi Shiraz selection too, right? No, not really. (From what I understand there is a reboot is happening Down Under too.) California Zinfandel remains California's unique heritage grape and some of the younger winemakers who’ve gone from one trend to the next are starting to quietly play with it again. (I won’t name names so they can surprise everyone when they’re ready to announce it themselves.) To better know the future we need to be conscious of the past and there is a reason why legendary California producers like Joseph Swan, Burt Williams from Williams Selyem and Tom Dehlinger—to name a few—made Zinfandel from Sonoma County alongside their great classically-styled California Pinot Noirs, long before Cali Pinot went sideways. And of course, we cannot fail to mention the fabled Zinfandel wines from the Paul Draper era at Ridge—some of the most compelling wines I’ve had from California. At The Source, we’ve picked a few fights in our market this last decade. I was literally laughed at by a future Master Sommelier for telling him that dry German Riesling was going to become a hot commodity—at the time we were selling Keller, Schönleber and Clemens Busch. We fought the good fight as we pitted the elegant Nebbiolo based wines from Alto Piemonte against the behemoths of the Langhe’s Barolo and Barbaresco back in 2010 with Tenuta Sella, when Cristiano Garella was in control of the estate and the wines had a short but remarkable run between the 2004 and 2008 vintages. Now there's a gold rush to Northern Piedmont, and dry German Riesling is on every well-rounded wine list. So, here we go again… Rafanelli is clearly a legendary Zinfandel producer, with the distinction of being fourth generation winegrowers in the Dry Creek Valley, and they’ve been making Zinfandel since the 1950s. When we agreed to work together, Shelly Rafanelli (the winemaker) brought me a couple bottles of old Zinfandels (1992 and 1989) her father dug out of his personal stash for me, and they were of the last bottles I drank before I moved to Italy this September. I was instantly transported back to the earlier years of my love affair with wine—the perfect sendoff to the country his ancestors emigrated from four generations ago. This summer I had dinner with Burt Williams, the long since retired wine alchemist of the historic Williams and Selyem winery, and told him that we started working with the Rafanelli family. His face lit up and he said, “That’s great. They were always one of the best.” ______________________________________ We sell the Rafanelli family's wines only to our top restaurants in California, but if you are not in the restaurant business and want the wines you can buy them directly from them at https://www.arafanelliwinery.com/, or go to many of California's top restaurants and enjoy them over dinner. (They are not usually sold to retailers anywhere in the country, except those that buy directly from the mailing list themselves.)