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In early January of 2017, Andrea and I left Chile’s capital, Santiago, to meet the renowned terroirist Pedro Parra for the first time. Five hours into our drive, we exited Ruta 5 at Chillán to leave Chile’s long Central Valley and drive west, away from the breathtaking Andes, which form the border with Argentina. We continued toward the Pacific Ocean and into the ancient granitic hills of the Itata Valley, a place Pedro claims to be Chile’s promised land. As we got closer to the Pacific the wind picked up, gusts blowing our car from side to side, slowing us down while the trees lining the highway bent wildly back and forth. As we entered Pedro’s hometown of Concepcion, the summer sky was bright blue and fresh, unlike the gray, smoggy ceiling above Santiago. The further into the city we went the more the wind howled. Along the right bank of the Bio Bio River, we passed through clusters of Chile’s modern commercial buildings, dilapidated midcentury, multicolored apartments and many shanties of the poor (very typical in any Chilean city). Eventually, we found our way to a street corner where we saw a familiar face that we’d only seen in photos. Standing alongside his German importer, Dirk von Streit (a tall German with Chilean heritage), Pedro immediately extended his hand to me for a warm shake and gave Andrea a big hug. Right away, it seemed like we’d known each other forever. Andrea even joked that maybe I had met her just so I could cross paths with this Chilean scientist, who shared my lifelong fascination with rocks. Every kid has unique interests, and mine happened to be a curious obsession with rocks and seashells. I was so in love with them that when I was about five, I asked an old lady at church who usually wore seashell necklaces and bracelets if I could have them when she died. I’m sure she really appreciated that—at least she smiled. Andrea drove our car so I could ride with Pedro and start the conversation I’d been wanting to have since I was a boy, and we all headed towards Pedro’s Itata vineyards, about 45 minutes away. In the passenger seat of his SUV was his rock hammer, a tool no geologist or terroir specialist would leave home without. He put on Wayne Shorter and we rolled down the road, windows open because his air conditioner had just broken. We leaned on the center console so we could hear each other over the jazz and the rushing wind, keeping our eyes on the mirrors so we didn’t lose Andrea, following in her mother’s bright red, roller-skate-sized Chinese-made car; it may be one of the slowest new cars in the world, so Pedro took it easy getting into the Itata. He asked me a little bit about myself and I told him the story of how had he foiled my big research plans in Chile... For quite a while now, I’ve been developing a strong interest in Chile, my wife’s native country. I read about Pedro’s work a number of years ago while researching geological formations in Chile’s cooler southern regions, and years before I discovered him, I visited what was then Chile’s “new frontier” of cold climate terroirs, the Casablanca Valley. The articles about the Casablanca were far more interesting than what I found when I got there. At the time, my opinion was that Casablanca hadn’t even remotely pushed the boundaries of cooler climate grape growing, contrary to what has been written about it in various wine publications. Pedro stated that it’s actually very easy for wines from Casablanca to ripen to well over 16% alcohol in most years. I was convinced there had to be more interesting soils in significantly cooler areas of Chile, terroirs that could express distinct personalities beyond cellar and vineyard techniques that force wines from uninteresting soils to be something they were never meant to be. For almost ten years, I had the idea to explore geological formations in the south of Chile and plant experimental vineyard blocks to vinify and isolate high quality terroirs. I was ready to make the move on my project and even got a couple of talented winegrowers interested in joining me. Just when I was ready to pull the trigger, I was stopped short after reading a few articles about Pedro’s work; he was already doing something exactly like what I wanted to do. Besides having the home court advantage, he was far more qualified, holding a Master’s Degree in Precision Agriculture and a PhD where his main focus was terroir. It was bittersweet, but Pedro spared me from a lifetime of research and experimentation. I let him know just how thrilled I was with his work. He smiled, acknowledging this shared idea—one of a couple of ideas we would come to realize that we shared. “But Chile is deeply wrong with wine.” Part 2 of 6, "Of Rocks and Wine," will post next week. Find Pedro Parra Wines here To keep up with this story you can sign up to our email list, or check in next week at the same time and you will find part 2.
Pedro held out a slab of granite that had decomposed almost completely into some kind of dense mudstone. Each mineral crystal was in place as if it were still solid rock. It was amazing; the soil was completely eroded in place. The rock bent a little before breaking with very little effort. It was a fragile soil that was completely available for the vine to plunge its roots as deep as they could go. When the vines dig this deep, Pedro calls it the vine’s “200-million-year-old Michelin three star tasting menu.” “Everyone talks about their soils and how their vine roots plunge deeply into them. How can you really know what your roots are doing if you don’t dig holes to observe them directly? Really... how do you know?” he exclaimed. “People have it wrong,” he continued. “They say meager topsoils will be too nutrient deficient. But there is a feast here,” pointing to the fissures, “that awaits the roots deep in the soils.” We jumped into the car and headed back to have dinner with his family in the coastal village, Pingueral, a town with an entirely rebuilt center, after a tsunami destroyed it in 2010. Pedro said it would take forty-five minutes to get back, but it took an hour and a half. Time got away from us because I threw a flurry of questions Pedro’s way, and he seemed to prioritize answering them over making good time to his family’s house. Unlike the hungry people following us, I didn’t mind. Pedro explained a theory on the vine’s relationship with soil that has gained momentum in the last decade or so. The idea (largely promoted by the well-known French soil scientist, Claude Bourgignon) is that the life and magic happens in the top soils and not deep in the bedrock; perhaps meager topsoils in granitic vineyards, like those in the Itata (similar to France’s famous granite soils of Cornas and St. Joseph) weren’t sufficient for the vine to get all it needed to thrive and develop a deeper range of complexity. Although Pedro acknowledges the logic of this theory, he doesn’t completely subscribe to it. As we drove toward the coast, I asked Pedro more about subsoil fractures and their relationship with vine nutrition. I threw in a concept I’ve heard many biodynamic producers talk about: the need to build up microbial activity in topsoils as a major key to unlock a wine’s terroir. The concept of “building up soils” was always a little strange to me; it seemed the opposite of a terroir wine. Before it was a vineyard, if the land never had particular microbes and all of the sudden these new alien microbes were introduced, wouldn’t that be changing a vineyard’s natural terroir even further? If a topsoil is rich in everything the vine needs, it’s like the vine is eating fast food “If a topsoil is rich in everything the vine needs, it’s like the vine is eating fast food,” Pedro quickly stated. “For example, in clay top soils they have a “full meal deal”: easy to get, quick to give, but no [real contribution to the wine’s] taste.” “Granite topsoil [unlike clay] is a low calorie meal, like a lean but nutritious dinner with only something like chicken and lettuce. But the vine can plunge deep into the granite’s vertical fractures,” he continued, “and while the topsoil’s portion of chicken and lettuce isn’t enough to sustain the vine’s nutritional needs, each foot below the surface gives another serving of chicken and lettuce, and further down more and more portions of chicken and lettuce,” he said, looking at me over the top rim of his glasses. He pushed them up his nose and continued, “this is enough to keep the vine fed, but only on lean and clean food. I want my vines to dine on a healthy multi-course Michelin-starred tasting menu, not fast food.” Pedro’s chicken and lettuce analogy was funny, and it made sense to me. At Pedro’s family’s house we were greeted by his two kids, his wife, Camila, and her mother and stepfather. There was also an innocent and quiet-looking, overgrown short-haired puppy that, when given the chance, mauled you with an endless flurry of jumping, biting and bullying, leaving you with slobber and needle-sharp hair all over your hands and clothes. The family was ready for us with typical Chilean appetizers like shrimp cocktail, crab claws, and abalone baked in cheese. We were handed glasses of sparkling wine from a project of Pedro’s, which was wonderful surprise. Then we tasted through a few white wines from another one Pedro’s Chilean wine projects, Clos des Fou. After a fantastic salmon dinner with a series of international wines, including a magnum of Saumur blanc (Arnaud Lambert’s 2014 Clos de la Rue, which I brought), a Barolo from a lesser-known, but great producer, Marco Marengo, and many more international wines one wouldn’t expect to find in this remote part of Chile, we were ready to hit the sack. Early the next day we were off to Cauquenes, the location of Pedro’s winery. After a two-hour drive, we entered an old, run down, but charming hacienda-style government building that he was able to use as their winery. Pedro brought us into his vat room full of concrete, stainless steel and large oak tanks, to taste through his single-vineyard Cinsault and Carignan wines. Once you visit a wine’s vineyards and see the soil and rocks it comes from you begin to really understand what you are tasting. After seeing Pedro’s pits and the ancient, newly unearthed stones, they become burned into your memory, giving a perspective on the wine you can’t have unless you’ve been there. The first Cinsault was elegant, like a beautiful Beaujolais. I was pleasantly surprised by how different each Cinsault was. They all went through the same winemaking process, with very little intervention or styling. Each wine had a clear voice, unique to each vineyard. The first Cinsault was elegant, like a beautiful Beaujolais; the second’s exotic and richly perfumed character evoked a strong emotional response; the third was gritty and structured with loads of peppery spice, like it was mostly made of Syrah; and the fourth was dense, with high-toned aromas of damp, green forest floor with wild, tiny black and red berries. I was taken by the unexpected, intensely mineral nose of each Cinsault grown on various granite soils with different physical structures. I later proposed to buy and import them to California as separate cuvées instead of all blended into one, which Pedro currently does. In the palate, all were earthy, mineral and textured with flavors I usually associate with Old World style wines. Embodying the intense, honest, pure and humble spirit of Pedro, I felt like I finally had my first uniquely Chilean wines. At some point in my wine career I wasn’t sure that I would find New World wines with this level of x-factor (metal, mineral and texture), while maintaining the character of a noble wine commonly found in the Old World. I’ve had my fair share of New World wines and so few are as raw and authentic as these. Unfortunately, many New World wines from interesting terroirs are tinkered with so heavily they often need to be psychoanalyzed to find their terroir imprint. After the Cinsaults, we tasted Pedro’s two Carignans. They seemed to subtly express the scent of pine and eucalyptus that we had smelled at the vineyards the day before, something we didn’t pick up in the Cinsaults. But from this, a dynamic set of richly scented, earthy and spicy reds emerged. It seemed obvious where the forest notes came from, and I asked him to weigh in on that perception. He agreed that it was likely from the trees. The topic of a vineyard’s surroundings and its effect on a wine’s aroma and flavor is another (true) story, but that’s for different article… After a quick sandwich in the laboratory and a tasting of Pedro’s newly bottled wines, we were on the road again to our final spot, Guarilihue. We had only three more hours with Pedro, but they would prove to be some of the most interesting hours of our trip. Part 5 of 6, "Los Reconquistadores" will post next week. Find Pedro Parra Wines here To keep up with this story you can sign up to our email list, or check in next week at the same time and you will find part 5.
Off-roading through a bumpy, hilly and winding dirt road for what seemed an eternity, we headed into the Itata Valley wilderness, our destination an ancient granite vineyard surrounded by pine and eucalyptus. Along the way we were joined by one of Pedro’s grape growers, Juan Palma. Juan comes from a family with a 300-year-old lineage, centuries of passed down vineyard wisdom. He took the lead in the caravan and we followed closely behind on the dirt road, windows down, eating dirt the entire time. The road was terribly dusty and our car was filled with it. Pedro didn’t seem to mind, though, and I figured this was the norm in hot weather with no AC in the Itata backcountry. After about thirty minutes we pulled into our first stop. Immediately we were met with warm dry wafts of wind pushing their way through the pine and eucalyptus trees lining the roads. Standing in the vineyards, it’s impossible not to notice the eucalyptus and pine aromas in the air at all times. Pedro setup an eraser board to illustrate Chile’s geological heritage and how the country was divided up in a simple way: the Andes were volcanic and metamorphic rocks, the Central Valley was filled with alluvial materials from the erosion of the Andes, and the coastal mountains were largely made of granite, an intrusive igneous rock. Years ago, the Chilean government erroneously decided that the old granite hills of the Itata weren’t useful for vineyards. They designated them for growing trees, mostly for making paper products—a controversial ecological dispute in these parts, because of the environmental damage from the pulp mills. Ironically, the native Mapuche Indians continue to light the forests on fire in rebellion to this catastrophe. Just as we were about to go up to visit one of Pedro’s many soil pits (he’s famous for digging massive holes in vineyards), we had an unexpected visitor. At first glance, I thought she was one of the vineyard owners. Why wouldn’t I think that? We were in a vineyard out in the boonies. But as she got closer, we saw a very small woman with a wind burnt, dark face, sunken in brown eyes, with lines carved into her face from many years of sun exposure. She wore a raggedy, but somewhat classy looking purple overcoat. She walked up to us with her hand extended, mumbling to herself, but really talking to us. She came for money. Pedro quickly went into his car and gave her some Chilean pesos. She made her rounds to the rest of us and Pedro told her that he had given her money for all of us. She smiled and slowly disappeared back into the forest. Pedro explained that big companies often pay 80 Chilean pesos per kilo of grapes—the equivalent of $.05 per pound. Like in the U.S., the poor in Chile stay poor, only a lot poorer. Even Chileans who work full time jobs often live in shanty houses made of cardboard and tin siding with dirt floors, even right in the middle of Santiago. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been such a surprise to see this poor woman out in the middle of nowhere. In the Itata, big companies from the north have come in to try to dupe the locals out of their land for pennies on the dollar of its potential value. Thankfully, most winegrowers of the Itata haven’t sold their vineyards. Instead, the growers maintain their work and they know that if they did sell, they wouldn’t have any alternatives except to become employees of the company that just bought their land. To them, selling is not an option. While grapes in high-demand regions of California can go for well over $6000 per ton ($3.00 per pound), Pedro explained that big companies often pay 80 Chilean pesos per kilo of grapes—the equivalent of $.05 per pound. It’s an extraordinarily cheap price to pay for grapes, especially when they come from dry-farmed ancient vineyards with vines that can be older than 200 years. However, more than the ancient vines, the true magic of the Itata are the pink granite soils. Over 500 years ago, the granite soils of the Itata were one of the first places the Spanish conquistadors planted vines. If they make the leap, something truly special could happen: they could be making wines authentically Chilean, instead of the big, generic, internationally styled ones. They got it right back then, and Chile forgot about these vines and the people farming them; at least until producers like DeMartino and Pedro Parra came around. Pedro now pays $.50 per pound for grapes and Juan thought he was stupid to offer to pay him such ridiculous prices. Pedro insisted to Juan that they were worth at least that. Pedro believes that if the farmers realize what they have, they will be able to flip the balance of power out of the hands of the big wineries. These farmers hold onto their vineyards, despite only making something like $20K each year for their entire family. Yet they know they have no economic future without their vineyards. Pedro believes that if the big companies weren’t able to buy fruit for almost nothing, they would likely start to fail. In fact, it’s thought that some of these old-vine parcels make up significant proportions of their top wines. One of Pedro’s life dreams is to help the growers in this region make their own commercial wines. His great idea is to gather enough money to take them to other wine regions to see first-hand the story of how extremely poor regions with gifted terroirs (like Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco regions) rose to become frontrunners in the world of wine. If they make the leap, something truly special could happen: they could be making wines authentically Chilean, instead of the big, generic, internationally styled ones. After the lady in purple disappeared back into the forest, Pedro brought us a little way up the hill to view the first of many holes he’d dug in the vineyards. They were about eight feet deep with stairs carved out at the entry. Smiling, Pedro made sure to point out that this hole wasn’t dug just for us, but for the many people that come to the Itata to see the beautiful soils Pedro evangelizes all over the world. Pedro entered the pit and invited us to come down. With his hammer, he began to pull slabs off the walls that have existed in place for 200 million years. He pointed out the vertical fractures that helped the roots easily find their way down into the many levels of the soil. It’s awe inspiring when you first expose a stone to the sunshine after it’s been buried for millions of years. Part 4 of 6, "Chicken and Lettuce" will post next week. Find Pedro Parra Wines here To keep up with this story you can sign up to our email list, or check in next week at the same time and you will find part 4.
“You need to find the proper mother for your wines… and a vineyard’s geology is the number one consideration,” Pedro said, as we drove towards his vineyards in Guarilihue. What was true 450 years ago when the Spanish Conquistadors settled in Concepcion is still true today. They recognized that Itata was a perfect mother for their vineyards because of the soil and climate, so they quickly established their roots in this place. “I chose this place because after working so many years with my clients, I knew exactly the places I hate. Back on one of Chile’s many dirt roads, we followed Juan Carlos Torres, another vineyard owner. I asked Pedro why he chose the Itata to establish his family’s label, Pedro Parra y Familia. Why didn’t he go further south into even cooler coastal climates closer to (but not in) Patagonia, or higher elevation sites in the Andes? After a moment of contemplation, he said, “I chose this place because after working so many years with my clients, I knew exactly the places I hate." “I have a map in my head of places where I know there is no solution,” he added. “I know that even if we bring in a super skilled winemaker, a place can be too strong to make a balanced wine. For example, granitic soils can be found all over the coast of Chile and up north, even in Casablanca. (A link to that part of the story can be found here). But as you know, the natural ripeness of Casablanca can be 16% alcohol, or more. I don’t want to add water or acid to my wines; that’s not what I like to drink… That is the first point. “The second point was that I knew I needed green land, which means both rain and clouds. It’s not about good year-round temperature; it’s about having cloudy weather in the beginning of the growing season, and in the end [toward harvest]. It’s only in the middle when I need the sun.” I suspected his third point, and I was right… He said, “We don’t have limestone in Chile. It’s too bad because I love limestone. So, if it’s not going to be limestone, it’s going to be granite, which I have the best in the world, and I love it. So, once I found the granite, I had to find more cloudy than sunny weather.” "I have dug thousands of pits in my life and I know very well the difference between irrigated roots and dry-farmed roots." - Pedro Parra The last point Pedro made was similar to one of the staples of French wine law: no irrigation. “I have dug thousands of pits in my life and I know very well the difference between irrigated roots and dry-farmed roots. If my clients want to irrigate their vines, that’s fine, but not my family’s wines… ever.” When we were tasting at Pedro’s winery, both of the other importers in our group, Dirk and Jorge, started to prep me for meeting another talented Chilean winemaker, Leonardo Erazo, a good friend of Pedro’s who had worked with him in Argentina and on many other projects. They insisted that I should consider tasting Leo’s wines and import those as well. As we wound up a very rocky dirt road, we took a final turn and eventually stopped on top of a hill. Down a little vineyard path a few people emerged from a makeshift pergola constructed out of small trees. Gusts of wind blew through the open sides, and the wooden roof was covered with greenery. It kept the sun from beating directly down onto the table where Leonardo and his Belgian girlfriend, Zjos were waiting. They joined us on the walk further up the road, through the intense wind and into the last vineyard of our tour. As always in Pedro’s vineyards, we came upon another soil pit. Up to this point, we had spent a lot of time talking to Pedro almost exclusively about granite with a little on limestone sprinkled into the conversation. I learned the day before that he wasn’t a big fan of volcanic soils, so I didn’t bring it up too much. I like wines from volcanic soils. But it’s necessary to have the right grape varietals planted to express their magic. I like wines from volcanic soils. But it’s necessary to have the right grape varietals planted to express their magic. Much of the time they mark the wines as distinctly as any soil type, especially from many of Italy’s wine regions, like Sicily or Campania. Volcanic soil is found all over the world, and the dominant “international grape varietals” like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Merlot in New World regions are often planted on them. More often than not, grape varietals are chosen for commercial reasons, not specifically because they are ideal for a particular type of soil. That’s what makes the wines of Lacryma Cristi, Taurasi, Etna and other southern Italian wines so special: they’ve established extremely suitable grapes on the right soils for centuries or, in many cases, for millennia. Standing over the pit next to Pedro, Leo drew comparisons and articulated the differences between volcanic and granitic soils and their influence on wine. “Basaltic [volcanic] and granitic rocks are igneous [both were once molten, but granite forms underground, while basalt forms above ground after an eruption], but their constitution is very different because of the way they cool. The slower the cooling, the bigger the crystals,” Leo explained. “Granite has bigger crystals, which you can see without a magnifying glass, unlike the tiny crystals in a basaltic rock. “The weathering [a geological term for the breakdown of rocks] is quite different, and the result in the wine is different too. With granite, depending on how much they have weathered over millions of years, there can be a lot, or a tiny amount of clay. The hardest mineral in granite is quartz, and it will be the last mineral to weather, leaving it almost completely intact.” Other minerals such as feldspar and mica will weather sooner. "Wines from here made from volcanic soils are softer, more linear and delicate; granite makes wines that are more wide and round." - Leonardo Erazo Leo continued, “the richness and water holding capacity of weathered granite is totally different than basalt. In the Itata when the basalts weather they become sandy, and the granite becomes more like clay. Wines from here made from volcanic soils are softer, more linear and delicate; granite makes wines that are more wide and round.” Going deeper into the smell and taste of these wines, Leo explained that the mineral sensations are different as well. In the back palate, granite is stronger (similar to metamorphic rock) and gives a rich saline and iodine sensation with a firm impression of iron; it tends to give more structure and tannin to the wine. The Itata’s sandy volcanic soils render more finely structured wines in comparison to granite. The aroma gives the impression of volcanic cinders and sometimes the phosphorus from a match. “The delicately textured tannins of volcanic wines carry the flavor to the very end of the palate," Leo added. Up to that point in my travels through many granite vineyards in Europe, I had never seen any so weathered into clay as in the Itata. Up to that point in my travels through many granite vineyards in Europe, I had never seen any so weathered into clay as in the Itata. Normally, I smuggle rocks back into California to add to my collection. If I had taken a piece back from some of these vineyards, I would have brought back what looked like rocks, but with a little time, they would dry and crumble on the mantle of my fireplace, since they were really just compacted pieces of soil,. Leo explained that there are granitic vineyards in the Itata that have hard, rocky soils, and others that are unusually soft. Granite is made up of a mix of minerals: mostly quartz, mica and feldspar. Depending on the amount of each component in the granite, the soil could be more or less susceptible to weathering. Clay content in the soil plays a big role in a wine. During the winter and spring, rainfall swells the clay, and in the arid summer it shrinks and contracts, potentially tearing roots and stressing the vine. Leo explained that the response of the vine to any kind of stress is to produce phenolic compounds to protect itself and the result can be hard (green) tannins. In the Itata, the result is that granite soils tend to make more tannic wines than sandier volcanic soils. Leo made it a point to say that this may not be true of volcanic soils worldwide, but it is in the Itata. The last segment of this 6-part series, "A New Discovery" will post next week. Find Pedro Parra Wines here To keep up with this story you can sign up to our email list, or check in next week and you will find part 6.
On our way back down to Leo’s improvised shelter, Andrea and I debated if we had time to taste Leo’s wines because we had to drive back to Santiago. It was past five and what would normally take five hours to drive in any normal car would take us seven. We knew we’d have to take it easy out of fear that our tiny little red car might fly apart merely by going the speed limit. Pedro mentioned that he had to go as well, and that we had just a few minutes if we wanted to quickly taste Leo’s wines. The wind maintained its intense howl and Leo took a seat with a cooler full of wine. Dirk, Jorge and Jorge’s group sat down and made themselves comfortable as they readied themselves to size up Leo’s new vintage for import. Leo pulled out a bottle of white wine and offered us a taste. With my mind already in the car, counting the hours driving back to Santiago, I stuck my nose in the glass. The Pacific Ocean winds did their best to whisk the aromas of Leo’s white wine out of the glass and back into the Itata, but the strong will of the wine resisted. High-toned, but delicate ocean spray, baking spices, exotic white fruits and citrus flowers gently fluttered out of the glass like a kaleidoscope of baby butterflies. The aroma was beautiful and charming. My eyes now wide open, I stared at Andrea with a look of surprise; she and I had labored through so many bottles of mediocre whites from this country over the last nine years, and this immediately seemed liked something very different. We took our first tastes at the same moment. The white, Pipeño (named after the old wooden 8000 liter traditional aging vessel shaped like a pipe), was authentic and complex. Made of 90% Moscatel and 10% Semillion, it was ornate and unapologetically delicious, even to an importer like me, who mostly opts for racy, high octane mineral bombs from Europe’s best spots for Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. It was salty, finely textured and familiar, but it wasn’t the grapes that brought familiarity… it was the influence of its granitic mother. The white, Pipeño (named after the old wooden 8000 liter traditional aging vessel shaped like a pipe), was authentic and complex. Andrea Arredondo Half smiling and unsure, Andrea glanced at me, as if for permission to put her cards on the table. I knew she liked the wine (as did I!), but she knew it could be a mistake to say out loud so soon if the rest of the wines weren’t as good; believe me, we didn’t expect them to be. Our eyes were locked, keeping our secret alive going into the next set of wines made from Pais. Pais makes a rugged and tough wine. Louis Antoine, a displaced Frenchman living in Chile, helped take the grape to notoriety in the States by making it in a Beaujolais style, with carbonic and semi-carbonic fermentations. He had worked in the cellar with one of France’s greatest vignerons, the late Marcel Lapierre, and made a name for himself in the “natural wine movement.” He’s now the best known producer from that genre in Chile. We had tasted in Louis’ cellar the previous day, and he had shown us some Pais made in a more traditional way (no carbonic method). The wines were interesting, albeit unfinished and straight out of tanks. They were massively tannic, and Louis made it clear he knew they needed more time to soften before going into bottle. Zjos and Leo Leo pulled two Pais wines out of his cooler. The labels were very charming and had sketches we later learned were done by Leo, alluding to the history of the Spanish Conquistadors and their cultivation of the Itata. Both wines were labeled Pais and were separated by their soil types, “Volcanico” and “Granitico,” in red letters. Both wines were labeled Pais and were separated by their soil types, “Volcanico” and “Granitico,” in red letters. The first red in my glass was Pais grown on volcanic soil. The color was as light as you’d ever see for a red. A seductive and unusually elegant wine greeted my nose. Again, the intensity of the wind blew most of the aromas out, making it difficult to catch its subtleties. I stuck my nose further into the glass to confirm that I was smelling and tasting a wine like no other I’d ever had from Chile. The next wine was the Granitico Pais. It carried a slightly deeper hue of red and worked forcefully against the wind compared to the last wine. More powerful, but equally elegant as the volcanic Pais, the nose and taste were unmistakably marked by the soils we had just seen. Blood, metal, mineral, coarse salt, orange and dark red roses, and deep, but supremely elegant red and black fruits filled out my mouth, leaving me a little stunned. Again, the familiarity and impact of the granite soil was clear. I was impressed, but still couldn’t help second guessing myself with these first three wines. My wife looked at me, still waiting for a cue, and I shrugged my shoulders and said, “who knew?!” I walked over to Pedro, who was patiently waiting for us. I was excited about Leo’s wines but I wasn’t sure what to do. Here was the guy I came down to see and then I met this other guy, Leo, who was equally impressive and making wines that were very different than Pedro’s remarkably intense and authentic wines. I looked at Pedro and cautiously said, “I am a little surprised by Leo’s wines. I think I need to import them as well.” Pedro smiled. With his arms crossed, he looked over the rim of his glasses and said, “They are beautiful wines aren’t they? You should import them. We work together and it would be good for our region if you would represent both of us.” I looked at Pedro and cautiously said, “I am a little surprised by Leo’s wines. I think I need to import them as well.” Pedro and Leo embody the best of their country. As guardians of Chile’s nearly forgotten legacy, they are championing the Itata’s important history and the families who have cultivated these lands for centuries. The ancient families of the Itata face a modern world where big business moves faster in two years than these farmers have in the last one hundred. Luckily Pedro Parra, their most faithful advocate, is the voice for their inevitable rise to the top of Chile’s wine culture. The ancient families of the Itata face a modern world where big business moves faster in two years than these farmers have in the last one hundred. As we left the Itata and joined the Ruta 5 north, back to Santiago, Andrea and I were glowing with excitement. In the past, taking a trip there during the southern hemisphere’s summertime was about momentarily getting away from our regular routines and the short winter days in California. We used to go for Chile’s beautiful and rugged beaches, endless supply of delicious seafood (especially sea urchin!) and perfectly ripe, in-season fruits and vegetables. We’ll still go for these things, but in less than two days we experienced a new Chile and started making plans to return much sooner than expected. We felt like we had just scratched the surface in the south and got a tiny glimpse into the Chile we’d been searching for.
As Pedro said, “Chile is deeply wrong with wine,” the tempo of the Wayne Shorter seemed to pick up. “Chile has a great geology, with different climates, but the wines are mostly the same… but in a bad way,” he said , pushing his glasses up the ridge of his nose (he does this about every minute while he talks). “Everything is focused around Santiago and everyone tries too hard to emulate the bigger wines of the world.” Chile suffers a similar challenge to my home state, California. Like many of California’s top growing regions, Casablanca is conveniently accessible to a major metropolitan area. And like California, a lot of regions in Chile are on somewhat uninteresting soils. These areas are often chosen by lifestyle winemakers and investors, Santiago’s affluent, who pass through Casablanca on the one hour drive to their coastal summer homes near Viña del Mar, Chile’s second largest city. They don’t want to give up easy access to the conveniences of urban cultures and sunny weather to work in rugged terroirs with interesting soils that are off the beaten wine path. Wine regions in Europe are different; many suitable terroirs just happen to be relatively close to urban centers. In France, Paris is inside a massive geological formation known as the Paris Basin, famous for its limestone and chalk vineyards—home to Champagne, Chablis and the Loire Valley—most of which are little farther than a two-hour drive. In France’s second city largest city, Lyon, vineyards begin where suburbia ends. The ancient granite soils of Beaujolais are only forty minutes north from the city center, while towards the south, the schists and granites of the Northern Rhone Valley are even closer. The Savoie, another geological wonderland, is just an hour and a half to the east, towards the Alps. Each of these region’s wines are distinctly marked by their rocks and soils as much as they are by the climate and grape variety. Pedro continued, “people tell me that their soils are clay, or loamy-clay, or sandy-loam, but I don’t care about the grain of the soil. I want to know if the sand or clay is a limestone-rich clay, or granite sand, etc. Most people don’t realize it, but it makes a difference what those clays and sands are made of.” Rocks, like granites, schists, slates (most famously in Germany) and limestones are endowed with distinctively influential attributes that undoubtedly impose a geological imprint on wine. Many new world regions don’t have these distinguished mother rocks and their decomposed topsoils. Without a soil that speaks its own distinct language, the natural tendency is to compensate by relying on enological and viticultural techniques, unnatural amendments and fertilizers, and drip irrigation where there is not enough precipitation. (It’s sunny all the time, a great place to live!). Regions with low precipitation or soils that have very little water retention often need drip irrigation. This crutch could be the greatest hurdle in producing a wine with the potential for a strong soil expression. Imagine a drip-line water emitter in the same exact location throughout the year. The vine is like my Italian friend, Antonio; it will always do the minimum to get its needs met. Under irrigation, it will naturally form most of its roots around the 5-inch diameter of the drip area, close to the surface of the soil and spend the rest of the day at the beach instead of working hard to dig deeper. A supporting argument for drip irrigation is that if the drip is sustained long enough in the same spot it will soak deep into the soil. This would encourage the vine to seek water further down, giving it access to the underlying complexity of the soil/bedrock below. There is logic to this theory, but it may also be a good argument against drip irrigation; if the root system were confined to take in nutrients only from the narrow strip of soil directly below the drip line (even if it were 2 meters below the topsoil), is this enough to give the wine the depth of personality of a vine whose roots have explored the soil in every imaginable direction? There will always be exceptionally talented winemakers who make delicious, well-made wines from most soil types. There are a lot of winemakers in the New World that express very well the varietal and climate with beautiful artistry. However, the soil expression in the wine rarely exceeds any impact beyond the basic physical structure of the soil. This is not to say that a terroir wine is better than a non-terroir wine; it is simply to say that some wines speak of the soil more clearly than others. Fully decomposed granite from the Itata Soil comes from weathered rock. Granite decomposes into many forms, like gravel, sand and clay. So, the use of general terms, like sand, clay and loam reference only to the soil’s structure and inadequately explain what the soil offers the vine outside of its water retention capability. What is the soil composed of? Is it silica sand made of quartz? Biogenic sands made from seashells? Kaolinite clay or montmorillonite clay? The possibilities are endless, and the differences can be subtle and monumental at the same time. “Most of the great boutique French importers from Europe don’t realize it,” Pedro said, “but they are mostly buying wines from schist, granite and limestone soils. Those soils speak of place more clearly than any wines in the world. I know the portfolio of wines you import and this is the case for you as well.” Further up the highway we stopped at a gas station and met up with one of Pedro’s other importers: Jorge Perez Hurtado, a Chilean national living in New York accompanied by a couple of his buyers from Connecticut. We continued on to one of the most fascinating and historical vineyard areas of Chile, the Itata Valley. Part 3 of 6, "Visitors and Soil Pits," will post next week. Find Pedro Parra Wines here To keep up with this story you can sign up to our email list, or check in next week at the same time and you will find part 3.
Almalfi Coast’s famous and quaint fishing village, Cetara. (Download complete pdf here) We used to look forward to summer, but now we can’t wait until it’s over. Summer used to be much more fun, but these days it’s a game of hide and seek shade. Where we are in southwestern Europe is not prepared for this type of heat. Most of the buildings and houses in historical areas (without massive new apartment buildings) aren’t equipped with air conditioning window units because most are constructed with side-hinge windows instead of the sliding kind. Sure, mobile units are everywhere, but one must be an architectural engineer or builder to install them into a swinging window or door, and even then, they are obnoxiously loud and produce as much heat from the tubing inside the room from the unit to the window that makes them a disaster in efficiency. We love living in Europe, but my wife and I admit that we miss the simple luxuries living in the US, including but not limited to having cooler rooms in the summer. This year has been a roaster over here, with three (maybe four) different major heat waves in Iberia in about six weeks. Most of Europe has experienced the same, and as one would expect, with the drought has come major water shortages. Occasionally a desert-like deluge blows in with strong winds, with rare thunderstorms and lightning that showed up in late July and August. We were passing through Rioja in the first week of August and as we parked at our hotel the temperature and ambiance changed dramatically in no time. It was a relentless 100°F until a system moved in from the north and in a few minutes it was pouring rain and the temperature dropped into the 60s. In other regions, like Piemonte, which is having one of its driest seasons on record, they finally got temporary relief with the arrival of some water, but the temperature hasn’t wavered. Despite the dire situation for many global wine regions, this year in much of Europe looks to be a bumper crop—that is, if nothing crazy happens in the last moments before harvest! Most of the year’s losses are a result of dried out and burned sections of clusters and clusters entirely exposed to the sun, or some small issue with powdery mildew (though not much downy mildew this year because it's reliant on the moisture that’s been so lacking). Pablo Soldavini, an Argentine winegrower in Galicia who has many projects brewing, like Adega Saíñas and his new eponymous label to come later this year, says than another factor is that many days in Ribeira Sacra got above 40°C (104°F), resulting in smaller berries and a shutdown of the plant, which will delay the harvest. With so many recent hot years with low yields, it will be interesting to see if or how these higher yields can counter the heat and normalize the balance of the wines—whatever normal even is these days. We should at least expect lower alcohol levels than we’ve had in most recent years. New Terroir Map We have a new map this month. There are quite a few more in the queue, but I’m behind on my must-dos and these things tend to end up at the bottom of the priority list. This month it’s a unique combination of appellations in Spanish and French Basque country and some neighboring Southwest France appellations. Imanol Garay, a grower we work with, jumps the borders each year to play around, sometimes resulting in wines labeled as generic European wine. There are a lot of grapes in common in this part of Spain and France, but sometimes quite different geological, topographical and climatic settings between them. It’s easy to overlook that where national borders are does not signify an end to their commonality. I hope you enjoy the map! A list of the Summer Euro Tour Top 5 Wines from our staff is at the bottom of our newsletter. I highly recommend taking note of their picks. They know our wines well and the measure of what truly stands out. Don’t miss it! New Arrivals: Rías Baixas, Spain Manuel Moldes’ Albariño vineyard for the new single-site wine, Peai. 2019-2021 Salnés Vintages Adrián Guerra, a partner in a new Albariño project in Salnés, Xesteiriña, and a former partner of one of the top drinking spots in all of Galicia, Bagos, in Pontevedra, offered an explanation of these three vintages. For our purposes with regard to whites, we’ll just cover what happened with Albariño. As for the reds, given that the red grapes of the area need higher temperatures than more “classical” years to develop balanced tannin and acidity, one can speculate their general disposition on ripeness. The reds from 2019 and 2020 will be very good. We expect the same for the 2021 reds, but they’ll likely be even more racy and intense than those from riper years, like 2017 through 2020. Adrián says that Salnés has been impacted less by climatic temperature increases than other areas and that the 2019, 2020 and 2021 vintages were all quite similar throughout the growing season. Where vineyards are as close to the Atlantic as those of Salnés, the influence of temperature extremes is less drastic than those further inland in places like the Rías Baixas subzones, Condado de Tea and Ribeira do Ulla, and many more so than other Atlantic-influenced interior Galician appellations, like Ribeiro and even parts of Ribeira Sacra. A lot of the vintage variation in Salnés is largely influenced by mildew pressure and rain. Those losses greatly affect yields, which also influences the final phenolic ripeness of the grapes. 2019 and 2020 are slightly more similar to each other than they are to 2021. Both of the former vintages allowed most winegrowers to take their time harvesting as they wanted. The alcohol level of Albariño in these two years hovers around and just above 13%. Adrián also pointed out that critics speak of these two vintages as warmer seasons, but when compared to years like 2017 and 2018, they are much fresher. 2021 was similar regarding annual temperatures and rainfall but was marked by lower alcohol levels closer to 12%. Adrián credits this more “classic” Salnés Albariño with lower alcohol in this similarly dry season to 2019 and 2020 to rains just prior to harvest. He believes the slightly higher yield and the rains restored a certain balance to the fruit. New Producer: Xesteiriña, Salnés Things are coming along for us in Rías Baixas these days and the addition of the micro-producer, Xesteiriña, will be yet another superstar in this appellation that we’ve added to our collection. Xesteiriña is in Salnés and comes from a single vineyard just west of Portonovo, very close to the Atlantic. The project and property is owned and operated by the extremely sharp and thoughtful José Manuel Dominguez, an Agricultural Engineer who comes from three generations of winegrowers in Salnés. The vineyard is a unique geological location largely composed of granodiorite and what may be some transitional materials similar to gneiss. In any case, the rocks are hard as heck, and the vineyard topsoil is incredibly spare, composed almost entirely of organic matter. José Manuel’s approach in the vineyard is one of caution and respect for the ecological environment. Organic methods guide his work, despite being so close to the ocean—a hostile environment for mildew and vine diseases. The vineyard is surrounded by forests of mostly indigenous Galician trees that are rare in these parts, and José Manuel wants to keep them for the biodiversity of the vineyard. Raised in a combination of old oak barrels and stainless steel, the 2020 Xesteiriña Albariño’s core is strong, dense and mineral, like two bottles of wine crammed into one. While its body is full and seemingly ready to supernova any moment, it remains serene and focused, vibrating with what feels like the life force of the rock and the crashing waves not too far from its birthplace. The lab numbers are impressive at 12.7° alcohol, pH of 2.92 and ta of 10mg/L, and will provide some insight on how this wine strikes and rests in the palate. It was raised in 70% stainless steel and 30% older French oak barrels over ten months. Xesteiriña has few bottles for world export, and they are worth getting your hands on. Only twenty cases were imported to the US. Pedro Méndez and his tree-like Albariño vines New Producer: Pedro Méndez As often happens while he’s on vacation or touring in Spain, our Southern California superstar salesman, JD Plotnick, fires text messages to me of wines he’s tasting as he moves through his favorite European country. One of the most recent was a photo of the Albariño by Pedro Méndez, cousin of local viticultural legend, Rodrigo Méndez. Luckily for us, he had not yet chosen his US importer, though there were many in line. After a short drive to Rías Baixas from our Portuguese apartment in Ponte de Lima, I had lunch with Pedro at Casa Aurora, owned by our mutual friend, Miguel Anxo Besada, also the owner of the famous local wine spot in Portonovo, A Curva. Like Miguel, Pedro is in the restaurant business. His family owns a small restaurant in Meaño, in the Salnés subzone of Galicia’s Rías Baixas. During the summer tourist season, their restaurant, A Casa Pequeña, keeps Pedro completely busy, and attends to bare necessities in the vineyards. The rest of the year he is solely focused on his vines and the cellar. After our lunch we had a tour of his vineyards where the highlight was the ancient, pre-phylloxera Albariño vines that are nearly two-hundred years old and look more like trees than vines. These ancient plants make up the composition of, As Abeleiras, the wine JD first had and a wine that floored me the first time I drank a bottle with Pedro. It’s a sort of Raveneau-esque Albariño in body and structure but with a pure citrusy, salty, minerally, high acidity power that only Albariño possesses. His entry-level Albariño doesn’t list the grape on the label and is aptly called Sen Etiqueta (without label). Its grapes are harvested from his family’s other vineyards scattered throughout Rías Baixas, mainly in Meaño, a three or four mile flight from the Atlantic. It’s snappy, minerally, pure and a fabulous deal for the quality. Pedro is young, talented and extremely humble and hospitable. I’m sure he’ll soon become one of the most recognized names in Rías Baixas. Manuel Moldes, Salnés While it seems like we’ve already worked together for a decade because we spend so much time together, it’s only our third and fourth vintages working with Manuel (Chicho) Moldes. Rías Baixas is a special place, and Chicho is right in the middle of its movement onto the world’s wine stage. Chicho is a busy man with no time for English, travel or kids; he only has time for wine, his wife, Sylvia, and his local friends and outsiders like us who visit regularly. I’ve pried him out of his shell on occasion to do some traveling through wine country to Chablis and the Loire Valley, but he otherwise remains laser focused on his gradual expansion. This year he completed a new winery next to the garage where he crafted all his wines prior to the 2021 harvest, and he continues to grab little parcels here and there in Rias Baixas; in all, he has more than fifty miniscule plots now, many of which are the size of a large backyard garden. Arriving this month is his 2020 Albariño “Afelio,” a wine grown on a collective of dozens of parcels on granite bedrock and topsoil (with only a tiny amount of schist, if any at all). The grains of soil vary highly from fine granite sand to gravel, some with a shallower depth and others with much deeper topsoil. This makes for a good mixture of palate textures and balance of muscularity and finesse, and an all-around great representation of Salnés Albariño. With the Afelio bottling, he started with some partial aging in old oak barrels but he’s inching closer and closer to using almost all older barrels. This vintage spent its first months in stainless steel and its last in old barrels. The 2020 Albariño “A Capela de Aios” will always be in short supply and high demand. Grown on ancient and nearly fully decomposed schist, with the rock formations on the upper sections of bedrock completely rotted in place, and it’s aged entirely in 500l-600l old French oak barrels to complement its fuller body than the crisper and tighter Afelio, this wine has greater depth and more complexity and perhaps a slightly more rounded character than the next wine, Peai. The 2020 Albariño “Peai,” (pronounced like P.I.) is the newest in Chicho’s range. Grown on a shallow topsoil of decomposed schist derived from the hard schist bedrock below, it’s the most muscular and angular in the range. Big textures and metallic/mineral notes dominate the palate, yet the nose is brightened with delicately salty sea spray, sweeter white and yellow citrus, and the cleansing petrichor of a fresh rain in a rocky countryside. Already gathering a cult-like following, the 2020 Albariño “As Dunas” is grown entirely in extremely fine schist sand, ground down by ocean waves when it was a beach millions of years ago. This is the most elegantly powerful Albariño in the range, displaying an incredible duality of finer, more nuanced points delivered with tremendous thrust, energy and structure. This group of vineyard parcels was divided between Chicho, Raúl Perez and Rodrigo Méndez (again, the cousin of Pedro, one of our new producers)—the latter two, local luminaries of the Galician wine trade. Chicho’s two arriving red wines have diametrically opposed characteristics and are from different regions, with 2019 Acios Mouros hailing from Rías Baixas, and 2019 Lentura from Bierzo. Only a three-hour drive away, they are completely different terroirs in every way (except that they share acidic soils), from dramatically different climates, exposures and surrounding ecosystems. The landscape moves from Rías Baixas’ rainy, humid, and wet Atlantic influence at low altitudes, to Bierzo’s Mediterranean/continental climate of snowy winters and boiling summers. Bierzo is arid and barren with vines grown at altitudes as high as 1000m. Acios Mouros is tensely loaded with an acidic, goose-bumping freshness. It’s grown on mostly granite soils close to the Atlantic and raised in old 500l-600l French oak barrels for about a year before bottling. Fermented and aged separately, it is a blend of 70% Caiño Redondo (the high acid, energy, red fruits, flowers, and light balsamic notes), 15% Espadeiro (the rustic, floral and lightly fruity medium-bodied contribution), and 15% Loureiro Tinto (the beast with all the black hues and wild notes). The Bierzo is a blend of 60% Garnacha Tintorera (dark red and black color, power, acid, juiciness) and Mencía (elegant, body-softening, red fruits and flowers). Lentura is notably fleshier and richer than Acios Mouros, a wiry, sharp and minerally wine. Lentura comes from the vineyards of one of his dear friends, José Antonio García. It’s a mixture of grapes from vines on the lower rolling hill areas on deeper white and red topsoil mixed with river cobbles, and vineyards higher up on the extremely steep and slippery slate hillside of Corullón. New Arrivals: Ribeiro, Spain One of Augalevada’s many organic vineyard sources for the Mercenario range Our Rías Baixas game is now equal to that of our Ribeiro. However, our Ribeiro group is very special and with a unique array of wines between El Paraguas, Cume do Avia and Augelavada. Cume do Avia’s wine will come later this year, but in the meantime the other two have wines arriving this month—or at least we hope so, depending on supply-chain issues… Bodegas El Paraguas Marcial Pita and Felicísimo Pereira continue their ascent to some of the higher levels of Treixadura wines from Ribeiro, the spiritual and historical center of Galician wines. Most of their vineyards are granite/granodiorite, with one specific parcel on schist. The style is, and I apologize in advance for this overused comparison, more Burgundian than most whites from Galicia. It’s not the nuances that match Burgundy, but rather the corpulence and broader palate weight of the wines. Aromatically, they are nearly everything but Burgundian and express their terroirs with great clarity, led with honeyed citrus blossoms, saltiness and fresh white fruits like yellow apple and pear. Ribeiro’s ace up the sleeve on white wine is Treixadura, a grape that thrives better here than anywhere else. In the right hands (like Paraguas’), it appears to have the chops to stand tall in complexity within the world of more full-bodied white wines. Their first wine in the range, El Paraguas “Atlántico,” is roughly 92% Treixadura and 8% Albariño—the latter addition to improve the wine’s acidity levels, mineral freshness and a citrusy zing. Made from a blend of their three different vineyards, one on schist and two on granite, it’s a powerhouse of quality and breed. Like all of their wines, it’s aged in 600l French oak barrels, a clever choice for this variety, and perhaps my favorite non-foudre-sized wood barrels. Although the difference between a 500l and 600l barrel seems negligible, it’s the stave thickness between them that makes the difference. The 600l barrel is typically about 30% thicker, which greatly influences the oxygen intake ideal for Treixadura, a variety in need of slower maturation in a tighter grain if aged in wood to preserve its finer nuances. La Sombrilla is grown entirely on schist, and this rock and soil type tends to make fuller and slightly more expansive wines in the palate, with metal and mineral notes that are deeper in the back palate than granite’s commonly front-loaded power. They chose to age La Sombrilla in some of the newer barrels (along with older ones too) because it wears it better than wines from granite soils—an opinion I share. It is not their objective to work with much new wood, but they prefer to buy new instead of used barrels. La Sombrilla needs time once open to express its best traits. There is always a little nuance of newer oak upon opening (as it is with almost every serious white Burgundy outside of Chablis) and with a little patience it will begin to reveal its full hand. Fazenda Augalevada Iago Garrido continues to lead a singular path in Ribeiro with his game-changing, flor-influenced wines. Iago explains that in the past flor was part of Ribeiro’s success, and that in Ribeiro, wine was often sold as full barrels to restaurants or for transport. There was surely a thriving BYO bottle (to fill) private-customer base who took directly from the cask as well. If flor yeast didn’t develop its protective layer in these large barrels as wine was slowly drawn from them, it wouldn’t last—it was essential for preservation at that time. So, if you see it from that perspective, Iago’s wines may be some of the most “traditional” of the entire region! Everything Iago makes has its own personality. Most, if not all the wines, are aged in a combination of larger old barrels (300l/500l/600l) and amphoras under flor yeast. Even if one of the particular wines was not under flor, it still carries the aromatic specificity of a cellar where flor is present, which adds nuanced complexity. The 2020 Mercenario Blanco is a mix of Treixadura, Albariño, Godello and Palomino. All grapes are sourced from various spots inside of Ribeiro on the banks of its main tributaries, Avia, Arnoia, and Miño. The average vine age ranges between 15 and 50 years and is on a mixture of igneous (granites/granodiorites) and metamorphic bedrock (Iago suspects mostly gneiss) with clay-rich topsoil. It’s aged in very old 500l and 600l barrels, glass carboys and amphora vats. This is the lightest white in the range and sometimes opens quietly but always picks up momentum with each passing minute, evolving very well for days after opening. 300 cases are produced. The flagship white wine, 2019 Ollos de Roque, is made entirely of Treixadura from the biodynamically-farmed, granitic Augalevada vineyard, tucked back behind the historic San Clodio monastery and the property of the fazenda. This is the wine that guided Iago into his flor yeast life by accident in 2014 when he buried an amphora in his vineyard that naturally developed a flor covering. At first he was mortified, but thinking it was a mistake to throw it out, with some time in bottle it developed a profound quality. Today it is indeed the most intense wine in the range, despite its very young vines, and delivers a beautiful balance of restrained power and elegance. The nuances of flor are present but folded in as to not overpower the terroir and Treixadura’s subtle qualities. It’s aged in a mixture of 840l, 500l and 330l old wood barrels and 400l amphora vats. 120 cases were produced. The first red in his range is the 2020 Mercenario Tinto, a blend of the powerhouse local varieties (from most elegant and fruity to the most rustic with deeper color) Brancellao, Caiño Longo, Espadeiro, and Sousón. Iago works with a plethora of small parcels scattered around Arnoia, Avia and Miño river valleys on mostly granitic soils with vines between 15 and 30 years old. With a very light and almost no-touch approach, the fermentations in these various vats lasted between 32 and 45 days. 80% of the wines are aged in 500l barrels and one 400l amphora vat for ten months. This is a very special wine indeed for Iago and it brings great pleasure to those seeking lower alcohol reds with depth and texture while maintaining interesting aromatic components tucked in behind its beautiful red fruits. My wife and I have consumed at least 30 bottles of the 2018 vintage (likely closer to 40, but I shy from possible hyperbole…). The 2019 was also very good but was more of an experimental vintage for Iago. In 2020 there was more stem inclusion, which made a fair exchange of fruitiness for more upfront earthy, savory, spicy and deep mineral notes. 300 cases were produced. 2019 marked the first vintage of Iago’s Mercenario Tinto Selección de Añada, something I requested he make when we were tasting the 2018 reds out of barrel. The 2018 was so utterly special and remains one of the most distinct barrel tasting moments of my career as a wine importer. There was a single 500l barrel out of three that year that completely rocked me. The other two were also impressive, but the third was like a long lost relative of Pierre Overnoy’s red wines—big praise I know, but worthy of the comparison. It was so special that I wanted the world to know it and taste it, but he blended it with the others to make an extraordinary wine in any case. I can still taste that single barrel folded in with the other two in the 2018 Tinto. 2019 was a very good first Selección de Añada, but, in my opinion (and I believe in the opinion of Iago as well), it didn’t reach the same level it didn’t reach the same level as the 2018 Mercenario Tinto. The 2020 version has a different agenda than the 2018 Tinto and the two 2019 Tintos. This year, he’s going for a more “meaty” style than in the past—likely an inspiration from the style of wines of two of his Galician heroes and local icons, Luís Anxo Rodríguez (Ribeiro) and José Luis Matteo (Monterrei). It comes from 15–40-year-old vineyards in the Arnoia and Avia valleys on granitic soil. In the cellar it was macerated for 45 days and then aged for a year in a 600l and a 500l barrel. 120 cases were produced. New Arrivals: Italy Andrea Piccioni’s Buttafuoco vineyards Andrea Picchioni, Oltrepò Pavese Andrea Picchioni is a historic producer of great distinction. There is no better winegrower in the world than the one who is energized by his vineyards, in love with them, and wants to live in them and learn from them, instead of being the one to teach them what he thinks he knows. This is Andrea Picchioni, a man on his own path, inspired by one of Italy’s iconic vignaioli, the late Lino Maga, second to none in the Oltrepò Pavese, a man who was Andrea’s spiritual leader, mentor and friend. Picchioni is the Mega to Lino’s Maga, and since they were so close I am sure that Lino felt the same. We had the great pleasure of meeting Lino the year before his passing and he graciously invited us to visit again. Lino and Andrea’s bromance was on full display, which led to a series of fabulous photos snapped by our team on the visit. What a special memory. Andrea works in the home of the original Buttafuoco vineyards in the Solinga Valley, with only the kind and joyful human war tank, Franco Pellegrini, to keep him company (a man responsible for giving me the most rustic wine and cheese I can recall daring to put in my mouth). Andrea is a solitary vignaiolo with no benchmark other than that of Lino’s Barbarcarlo, to which his equally original wines overflow with tremendous depth and unapologetically full-flavored richness. Andrea grows his grapes on some of the steepest unterraced vineyards in Italy, with vines that run from top to bottom rather than side to side. The calcareous components of his vineyard topsoil keep the conglomerate bedrock cobbles below cemented into place so these vineyards don’t slide right down these treacherous hills and fill the steeply V-shaped ravine below. During our summer trip this year, Tyler Kavanaugh, our San Diego company representative, fell even more in love with Andrea’s wines. We were treated to a series of older vintages of Riva Bianca and Rosso d’Asia, some ten years old and others back to the 90s, all of which seemed like they’d hardly aged at all in the bottle except for the fact that the x-factors were more clearly defined. Picchioni’s unabashed style of wine is committed to the historical Buttafuoco blend of Barbera, Croatina and Ughetta di Canneto (a regional Vespolina biotype). He also has some Vivace wines and we’ve added one to our shipping container. The 2021 Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese is a fabulous, dark and full-flavored, semi-sparkling red. Made entirely of Bonarda (Croatina), it’s fermented on the skins (fully destemmed) for four to five days, then pressed and racked into autoclaves where it continues its fermentation under pressure. There are few wines so perfect in the world for cured meats and fatty animal cuts than a sparkling, cold red wine from the many areas of Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna. This wine is a true highlight compared to most others that are mass produced under chemical farming. Here at Picchioni, it’s organic all the way and the wines feel more alive than any bubbly Italian red I can remember. Into the more serious range of still red wines we find Andrea’s two big hitters, 2018 Rosso d’Asia & 2018 Riva Bianca. These two powerhouses come from nearly adjacent vineyard rows but are composed of a different grape blend. Rosso d’Asia is 90% Croatina and 10% Barbera, and the Riva Bianca plays within the rules of the Buttafuoco dell’Oltrepò Pavese appellation with a blend of Croatina, Barbera and Ughetta di Canneto, and Andrea doesn’t keep track of the exact proportions of these grapes. Rosso d’Asia is macerated on skins for more than 60 days, while Riva Bianca’s maceration lasts between 90 and 120 days—a long time in each case! Both are aged in large wood vats for two years before bottling. Trying to describe the flood of generous nuances from these two wines would take an entire page of new notes written every thirty minutes as they evolve after opening. In general, the Rosso d’Asia could be described as the straighter, darker, more peppery, brooding wine. Its muscle, spice, acidity and tannin are on full display and seamlessly woven together. Riva Bianca could be described as having a greater range of x-factors—similar to Lino Maga’s wines in spirit, but much more precise and cleanly crafted. I’m confident that the bacterially related “funk” in Maga’s wines was deliberate, and likely (based on his polarizing reputation) an attempt to rock the boat of enological correctness, perception of hygiene, bacteria’s role in authenticating a regional wine’s taste, the homogenization of the wine world, and the disruption of cultural histories and regional tastes. But of course, this is just speculation on my part. On the other hand, his student and friend, Andrea, is more rooted in craft along with his immense respect for nature, which is on full display in his organically farmed vineyards. Nature is truly Andrea’s guide (which is evident in each of his wines), but he respects the craft and works to fine tune it without any loss of authenticity. His wines display a clear intent to reveal their highest highs without straying too far off into the bacterial wine vortex. If there was one rogue in the bunch that forages deeper into the world of bacteria, if only as a supporting nuance, Riva Bianca would be the wine with that wanderlust. This is why it’s also his most spellbinding wine. Dave Fletcher, Barbaresco Most of us get one coming out party in our life (I think…) and 2019 will be the year for Dave. Since our first tastes of any of his 2019 Nebbiolo wines out of barrel, we knew they would be more than just special; they were going to be a breakthrough. From the Nebbiolo d’Alba all the way to his top Barbaresco crus, there is magic in the entire line, and he’s already made some head turners, especially in 2016. However, there is almost no chance that any wines prior to 2019 will rival this banner year. A description that seems to be finding its way around the wine community to best describe what sets Barbaresco in 2019 apart from other great vintages is elegance. For such a profound vintage with tremendous depth and guts, this is one factor that may help it to rise in stature higher than 2016 and 2010. 2019 has everything, and for this taster, there is no greater achievement for a wine with “everything” than to be led by gracefulness, even if it’s just slightly ahead of its strength and depth. I asked Dave to give us a rundown of the five most recent vintages in Barbaresco. Many people, including the critics (and even I) tend to lump Barolo and Barbaresco into the same sort of vintage bullet points. Indeed, they have more similarities than differences, but as slight as they may be sometimes, the subtleties separate wines; the separation of true greatness from excellence is a game of nuances from one season to the next. Not necessarily regarding temperatures, but rather the timeliness of rains, hails and frosts, and other things that can dramatically change the yield and health of a season particularly built to develop those nuances. If you lose to frost, it changes the grapes immensely; if it rains in one place and not the other, you have wines of different fruit components, alcohol levels and structure; depending on the time of year, hail can ruin an entire field, while the one next to it remains untouched. In Piemonte, it’s all the luck of the draw. Dave’s Barbaresco Vintage Notes 2017 was warm. A frost in July lowered the yields but the resulting wines had good density and mild structure making them approachable early. I harvested all of my Nebbiolo grapes before the 22nd of September. 2018 had a late snow in March, which was a welcome delay for the vegetative cycle, thus extending the maturation period to later in the season. Some rainfall in September and October delayed the harvest, but less so in Barbaresco than Barolo. The wines tend to have a delayed expression. They’re also tight in tannic structure but with prettiness and a lot of elegant fruit. I like this vintage a lot. All of my Nebbiolo was harvested in early October. 2019 was a perfect season with ideal weather. The ripening was slow and progressive—Nebbiolo’s calling card. They are wines of elegance and finesse on the nose with great supporting structure and acidity for long aging typical of great vintages. For me, it’s the best in the last decade. I harvested my Nebbiolos just before mid-October. 2020 was another warmer season, but not as warm as 2017. The wines are very approachable with softer tannins. The tannins are also not as dense as 2017 and are more in the direction of great Pinot Noir and its supple nature. 2021’s slow ripening season is similar to 2019. Cool nights and heavy rainfall came in early September, which brought a welcome extension of the season where Nebbiolo was picked up until mid-October. The wines have great structure but maybe more density than 2019. At this point, I think it’s an exceptional year but I don’t think it will reach the heights of 2019. However, it’s too early to say. Cellar Work All of the Nebbiolo-based wines are made the same except for their time spent in barrel. Everything is destemmed, the extractions are gentle and sparing with typically one punch down every other day, and only pumped over if needed. Fermentation time can run from two weeks to two months, and is made without temperature control. “Tannins need to be managed in the vineyard, not the cellar, so if they take a long time, I’m not worried about over-extracting them because they were picked when the seeds were ripe.” The first sulfite addition is made after malolactic fermentation is completed. All are aged in 300-liter, old-French-oak barrels with a minimum of ten years of use. This is interesting to note because the wines have a woodsy quality that appears to be an influence of younger barrels, but Dave explained that sometimes Nebbiolo and Barbera naturally express this characteristic, and it’s hard to say why; perhaps it’s somehow organoleptically linked to their ingrained balsamic-like nuances. The use of smaller, more-porous barrels instead of larger botte would increase their oxygen and could accentuate this characteristic. The Langhe Nebbiolo is aged for 13-14 months (as were the Nebbiolo d’Alba wines before the 2020 vintage) and the Barbarescos for 26 months. He does no fining or filtration. Dave’s 2020 Langhe Nebbiolo, formerly labeled a Nebbiolo d’Alba, is a blend of 90% Roero Nebbiolo inside the Nebbiolo d’Alba appellation, and 10% from young vines in Barbaresco territory around Neive. This 10% addition from Langhe, outside of the Nebbiolo d’Alba appellation, forced his hand in using that appellation instead of Nebbiolo d’Alba. The tannins here are a little softer in profile and require less aging in wood to reach a good evolution. The result of the shorter aging with Roero’s much sandier soils makes for an upfront, delicious, red-fruited Nebbiolo with gentle leathery rustic notes. Fletcher’s 2019 Barbaresco Range The starting Barbaresco “Recta Pete,” (a name taken from Dave’s historical Scottish family clan name that means Shoot Straight) is sourced from the younger vines of three different powerhouse cru sites and is a blend of roughly 55% Roncaglie, 25% Starderi and 20% Ronchi—the latter likely to be bottled in 2022 as its own cru. The marriage of these three exceptional sites with their variations in temperature, exposure and soil, along with the younger vines makes for a wine with great energy and earlier approachability. But all of Dave’s 2019s are quite approachable early on due to their elegance. The outlier between the three crus, Starderi is the warmest of Dave’s Barbaresco sites and has the highest percentage of sand mixed in with calcareous marls. He describes these influences on the wine as driving it toward the expression of red fruits, like strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. The tannins from these 45-year-old vines are finer than the other two crus in a sort of chalky Pinot Noir way, which he also attributes to the sandy soils. Dave views Faset as a quintessential classic central-zone Barbaresco grown on middle-aged vines (35 years or so) with a stronger clay component to the soil and a direct south-facing exposition. It’s the richest in pallet weight of the three and has a stronger tannin profile when compared to Starderi. There is less of the red and lighter fruits as they have moved further into darker, perhaps more developed maturation with more layers like plum and fresh, dark fig. Dave feels that Roncaglie has the best of both Starderi and Faset. The tannic structure is like Faset and its similar clay soils which also increase its core density. The fruit’s profile flaunts hallmark Nebbiolo notes with violets, cherries and rose petals, all of which can be attributed to it being in a cooler position than Faset. Dave buys his Roncaglie fruit from the Colla family from a variety of different spots and vine ages. In my tasting of these three wines from Dave, Roncaglie is the standout in pure breed and finds the next level of regality. It’s one of the truly epic crus of Barbaresco and it’s a treat to see a different but equally thrilling rendition of it alongside the Collas’ 2019 Roncaglie masterpiece. The Source Team Summer 2022 Tour Top 5 Wines Leigh Ready, Mateus Nicolau de Almeida (Douro producer for Trans Douro Express), Hadley Kemp, and Victoria (Vance) Diggs. Iberian Tour I promptly got Covid on the Iberian trip this summer and was ejected from the tour, so I missed almost all the visits. For this reason, there is less commentary from me for their choices because I wasn’t there to taste these new wines! Believe me, I was jealous… We start with some input from our own Leigh Ready, a Santa Barbarian deeply in touch with nature. She spent a lot of time in the restaurant business and selling wines for import companies, but she also worked many years for an organic produce farm. Leigh’s top five Iberian wines were the Spanish wines Javier Arizcuren’s 2021 Rioja Solo Garnacha Anfora (grown at 550m on calcareous soils), Pedro Méndez’s 2019 Viruxe, a rare and unusually fabulous Salnés Mencía (maybe we’ll get an allocation with the 2021 vintage). In Portugal, her favorites were the Constantino Ramos 2019 Afluente Alvarinho grown in Monção y Melgaço’s higher altitude areas around 300m (most of Monção is quite low in altitude by comparison), and finally from our two producers in the arid and high altitude (600-650m) Trás-os-Montes, 2021 Menina d’uva Rosé and 2021 Arribas Wine Company Rosé. Hadley Kemp, one of the newest to our team is based in San Francisco. Also a former restaurant pro as a General Manager and Sommelier, she was well-trained on wine and is one of the few of her generation (Millennial) afforded the opportunity to work with extensive wine lists loaded to the gills with the world’s greatest blue-chip producers. Despite this special experience, most of her choices were perhaps less “classical” in style, an indicator that she is not stuck on the past but loving what today and the future have to offer! She also chose the Javier Arizcuren Sol Garnacha Anfora, Constantino Ramos’ Afluente Alvarinho, and Arribas Wine Company’s Rosé. Her other favorites were Constantino Ramos’ 2021 Zafirah, a blend of Vinho Verde red grapes, and Pedro Méndez’s 2021 Albariño Sen Etiqueta (100% monovarietal but not labeled as an Albariño) from Rías Baixas’ Salnés area, which is arriving this month! Italian, Austria and Germany Tour Magdelena Pratzner, from the Sütirol winery, Falkenstein, with JD Plotnick and Tyler Kavanaugh. JD Plotnick and Tyler Kavanaugh, two of our Southern California salespeople, joined me on a tour through Italy and Germany. JD also started the trip with me in Austria, so Tyler’s top five won’t include Austrian wines. I was Covid-free through this trip, unlike the Iberian leg, and was there to watch their emotional reactions to the wines, which made it a little easier to guess what their top picks would be. JD Plotnick works with us in Los Angeles. A former cook at one of Chicago’s great restaurants, Schwa, and a classically-trained musician, his relationship to wine closely relates to these precisely tuned and harmonious arts. His list included four wines that also made my top 15 list posted in our July 2022 Newsletter. Bookending the trips through the German-speaking countries, he included Veyder-Malberg’s 2021 Riesling Bruck, a truly spectacular wine from one of the wine world’s greatest alchemists from one of the best years known in the region. Next is Katharina Wechsler with her wine labeled, 2021 K. Wechsler Riesling Schweisströpfchen. This wine borders between Spätlese and Kabinett (52g/L residual sugar) and is grown in the great limestone cru, Kirchspiel, in one of its warmer sections. (It could have easily made my top 15 list too, but I already chose a different wine from Wechsler—check out Tyler’s choices to see which one!) Just across the border of Austria and into Italy’s Südtirol, the young Martin Ramoser’s 2020 Fliederhof Sant Magdelener “Gaia,” made entirely of Schiava, also made my top 15 list (posted in our July Newsletter). What a special wine! A super breakthrough performance that will arrive in minuscule quantities (only four cases!) this fall. Poderi Colla’s 2019 Barbaresco Rocaglie predictably made everyone’s top five of the trip. Thus far in its youth it shows glimmers of perfection from this mighty but very elegant vintage. Finally, Davide Carlone’s 2018 Boca “Adele,” represents the heights of quality for Nebbiolo in Alto Piemonte. It deserves a full-length article to describe its depth of complexity. When Aussie native Tyler Kavanaugh isn’t surfing the famous waves of San Diego County in-between tasting appointments with our restaurant and retailer customers, he’s cooking and spending time with his wife and their new baby north of San Diego. He’s an Italian wine specialist, so all of you listen up! First on the list, and no surprise, is the 2019 Poderi Colla Barbaresco Roncaglie; again, near perfection. I knew the next wine would make his list because his eyes barely remained inside their sockets when tasting the the 2010 Andrea Picchioni Oltrepò Pavese “Riva Bianca.” We have the 2018 version of this arriving this month and it has the potential to match the extraordinary 2010. Tyler was a big fan some years ago after I tasted him on the wines when he was posted up as the buyer at the fabulous San Francisco Italian boutique wine shop, Biondivino, prior to onboarding with us. Enrico Togni’s “Martina” Rosato/Rosso (depending on what label you get!) tank sample also made my top 15. Simply too good to be labeled a Rosato, it’s as good as it gets for this Italian category—think an Italian version of López de Heredia’s Viña Tondonia Rosado in style, though much younger upon release! Andrea Monti Perini’s 2017 Bramaterra out of cask was superbly emotional and deserving of a top five list, as were the 2018 and 2019. So much life and energy in his wines! Finally, Tyler chose Katharina Wechslers’ 2020 Riesling Kabinett, which also made my top 15 and was ultimately positioned as my own official summer house wine of 2022. It comes entirely from the world-class cru, Kirchspiel., and it’s simply gorgeous Kabinett, with wiry acidity and the elegant beauty of its great limestone terroir.
That question again... Is it possible by taste to assess what type of bedrock and soil a wine comes from? I am aware that extensive, abstract or technical wine writing doesn’t usually sell wine, but I don’t care. I view short, oversimplified marketing strategies with catchy, punchy and clever comic book-style writing too short and shallow, word salads that don’t mean much, only intended to attract attention. I prefer the longer form with wine because wine is not a small subject, unless you are a beginner or just drink it because you like it and nothing more; I wish sometimes I could do that too! Short form writing is the same as a quick wine tasting, while the long form is the exploration of wine as one drinks a bottle and really digs in. Many of you subscribe to us because we sell delicious wines made with sound philosophy, practice and a lot of heart, but also because we continue to adventure deeply into the conversation of this utterly fascinating subject. With this offer, I want to share something with you that (like many others in our field) I can’t seem to get enough of. That is, the search for clues to the currently not fully understood organoleptic link between wine and the composition of its bedrock and topsoil. Science can’t yet explain all the processes for what makes a wine taste the way it does, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t possibilities to be considered; we just haven’t found the answers to everything yet. But when we do find answers, will it diminish the thrilling mystery of wine? When one mystery is solved, another will inevitably emerge. So we’re safe to share our ideas outloud, even if they are not completely right; exploration and searching are always at least half the fun! In what I hope will be the first in a series of offers that follow a specific theme, today we focus on wines that grow on landscapes developed more than three hundred million years ago. They come from a world we would hardly recognize today, a time long before the dinosaurs: The Pangaean Era. A Short Preface to the Wines Each of these wines comes from land formed in what geologists refer to as the Variscan orogeny. This mountain building event took place 370 million to 290 million years ago and formed an ancient chain of mountains that connected North America to Eastern Europe and were likely comparable in size to today’s Himalayas. Now they are squat, rounded and extremely short by comparison after hundreds of millions of years of erosion. These mountains were formed during the collision of two supercontinents, Gondwana and Laurussia, and once connected they formed Earth’s last supercontinent, Pangaea. The remnants of this ancient belt-like chain of mountains is connected to today’s ten wines that come from Spain and Portugal’s Iberian Massif, France’s Armorican and Central Massifs, as well as central and eastern Europe’s Bohemian Massif. All of the land that separates these massifs today developed over the last two-hundred million years as Pangaea broke apart and the Earth’s seven continents drifted to where they today. There is no doubt that a wine’s bedrock and soil composition influences certain elements of taste. We can start with the soil’s grain size, meaning whether it’s clay, silt, sand, gravel or a mix. This aspect of the soil imparts a different shape to the wine, which we sometimes describe somewhere between angular and round, or vertical and horizontal. It’s commonly accepted that sandier soils typically veer wines toward elegance and lift, where clay-rich soils make them more broad and muscular. This is an influence of soil grain, not as much as what the soil is derived from. A wine’s palate-weight and the strength of where it finishes with the most intensity and length appears to be more often associated with its bedrock and soil composition, especially if there is a particularly dominant rock type, like a limestone, granite, schist or slate. This is where we will focus on in this somewhat short essay. With today’s current trend of less is more in the cellar, the perception of these characteristic traits from specific rock types has become even more evident to those who spend time observing this particular characteristic of a wine. Indeed this seems like some seriously advanced wine assessment, but once the concept is grasped, it’s digestible. Don’t worry, you’re going to get this. That said, there is one little tedious technical detail that needs to be addressed before we get started. That is that there are two basic categories of igneous rock: intrusive and extrusive. Both were once liquid magma, but an intrusive rock slowly cooled below the earth’s surface, while an extrusive rock was expelled by volcanoes and cooled on the earth’s surface quickly in minutes, hours or days. The resulting wines from these two igneous rock types are extremely different, and volcanic wines have been excluded from today’s conversation, because most volcanic rock on the earth’s continental crust appeared there after the time of Pangaea, and it tends to influence wines quite differently than intrusive igneous rocks, like a granite or gabbro. Finally the Wines! Intrusive Igneous Rock Whites Our first wine is close to home—literally… I live about ten minutes from Quinta do Ameal, which sits along the Lima River in Portugal, a magical place where our dream to live in Portugal started. Ameal’s Pangaean connection is the Iberian Massif, and we are located in the far northwestern area of Portugal, inside the Lima Valley of the Vinho Verde, the latter is Portugal’s coldest wine region, and the former it’s coldest subzone. The bedrock and topsoil at Ameal is 100% granite, an intrusive igneous rock. Granite wines are almost always front loaded in the palate, no matter where they’re from. And you can especially feel this palate pressure about fifteen seconds after you swallow the wine and observe the finish. Granite imparts elegance to its wines and a lot of salty freshness too, which this wine has in spades. This is especially useful for grapes with naturally high acidity, like Loureiro, which constitutes the entirety of this wine. I’ve drunk my way through a lot of Portugal and quite a few of its good restaurants and have asked sommeliers and waiters for their suggestion on wines from the Vinho Verde region just to see what they have to say. Without exaggeration, if Quinta do Ameal is on the list, it is always recommended; and for the price and versatility it always wins. At Ameal, everything is carefully controlled and organically farmed. This wine is raised exclusively in stainless steel and goes with almost any kind of food, especially seafood, fish and full-flavored pork dishes— barbeque included. And it’s a wine for absolutely any occasion. There are only a few vineyard rocks I’ve held that are as heavy and hard as the gabbro found at Morandière's Muscadet vineyards, in the Loire Valley’s furthest west major region. Gabbro is an igneous rock, like granite, that was formed underground before it was plunged to the surface hundreds of millions of years ago with tectonic movements. By sight, the gabbro in his vineyard has a slightly green/grey cast and sometimes some faded white splotches. What it delivers to the wine is a tremendously dense core and front palate power on the finish, similar to what granite imparts. Muscadet is a cold region and is part of France’s Armorican Massif, named after pre-Pangaean mash up when Gondwana and Laurussia played a rough game of bumper plate tectonics with the smaller floating continent Armorica sandwiched in the middle, forming a long, crumpled up, snake-like mountain range. During this period the vineyard land of Muscadet used to be connected by land to the Vinho Verde, through northern Iberia, and there are similarities between the way these wines feel—especially in the palate aftermath once you’ve swallowed the wine. The grapes from these regions are very different; both are super fresh, but the Loureiro is extremely lithe but angular, while the Melon de Bourgogne, the grape in Muscadet, often carries more density, texture and deep mineral and metal characteristics; but the mark of their similar bedrocks is evident, leaving pressure on the front palate of the finish. Metamorphic Rock Whites The Bohemian Massif, another Variscan remnant, is what makes Austria’s Wachau river gorge special. The Danube River carved out this narrow, picturesque gorge now covered in steeply terraced vineyards atop soft, short riverbanks filled with vines and small villages. If it weren’t for the Danube slicing through this area, it would be a very different geological setting—a continuation of the relatively flat plateau covered in forest next to the Pannonian plain toward the east. The Danube exposed, gneiss, a beautiful metamorphic motherrock with colorful earthtone mineral bands that give the impression of a bunch of strings bunched up, compressed together and turned into rock. Tegernseerhof's Superin vineyard is planted to Grüner Veltliner and sits just next to the Danube, though not on a terrace. It’s in a unique position compared to other vineyards down by the river in that it's butted up against a hard gneiss outcrop that the village, Durnstein, was built on. As the river rushed by, it stripped the topsoil from the rock, leaving a shallow covering of river sediments on top of this gneiss bedrock. Here, in classic Tegernseerhof style (mineral, crystalline and pure), we jump into the metamorphic wine world. Unlike the first two wines, this one digs deeper in a way that, as the famous Chilean soil scientist, Pedro Parra, says: “it drills into your back palate.” While the igneous rock wines hits hard and continues to weigh heavily on the front palate after the wine is gulped down, here it rests on the side and back palate, often leaving the mid- and front-palate finish nearly non-existent by comparison to what an intrusive igneous rock imparts. Continuing on with another metamorphic white wine, we jump back over to the Armorican Massif, not too far east of Muscadet, and into likely the oldest exposed rock formation in France—at least according to Patrick Baudouin, the maker of this wine who, like me, spends a lot of time shooting the breeze about minerals, smashing rocks and sipping wines with geologists and asking too many questions. Here we find some pretty nice schist, a metamorphic rock formation about five hundred million years old. Baudouin's Coteaux du Layon "Les Croix" is an organically farmed vineyard within a complex valley stitched together with a wide variety of rock formations, largely from volcanic and metamorphic origin. I don’t know what it is with these metamorphic rocks, but they also make wines especially salty and with strong impressions of metal even more than mineral; the grape, Chenin Blanc, is a fabulous transmitter of terroir and really lets these features fly. Put a Baudouin Chenin from the Layon or Savennières, next to a Chenin grown on a limestone terroir just toward the east, in Saumur, and if you don’t know Chenin well, you may not believe that they are even the same grape, let alone grown so close to each other. Like other wines grown on metamorphic bedrock and soil, Patty’s salty and fresh Les Croix drills into the back and side of the palate, especially on the finish, somehow leaving you quenched while at the same time still wanting your next sip. Intrusive Igneous and Metamorphic Rock White Last for the whites today is the 2018 Bodegas Paraguas "Atlantico." Here we have a blend of different motherrocks, and you’re going to feel it. We’re back to the Iberian Massif, more specifically the Galician Massif in northwestern Spain, and a wine region I believe to be one of the greatest future prospects in all of Europe, the Ribeiro. Why such a seemingly cavalier claim for this mostly unknown wine region? We’ll get to the geology, but first we have to note its history as one of Spain’s most celebrated wine regions of yesteryear (the other being Rioja, which never fell out of favor) before more than a century long series of problems, listed here (in order to the best of my knowledge): powdery mildew, phylloxera, downey mildew, WWI, Spanish Civil War, dictatorship, WWII, continued dictatorship, post-war industrialization and the abandonment of the countryside by poor farmers in search of work within nearby bigger cities. From a geological standpoint, the Ribeiro has no limits to its potential with its blend of a wide range of metamorphic and igneous rocks. And in the three parcels that make up this wine we have a blend of schist and granite. Taking into account where these wines strike and remain with pressure on the palate (intrusive igneous in the front, metamorphic in the back and on the sides) you can imagine the level of impression on this wine. It’s more diverse but still strong on the palate, making for a wine with more dimension in some ways than the others. That doesn’t make it better, it just makes it different and perhaps more full and rounded, and without dominance of either schist or granite. The primary grape here is Treixadura, one that lends itself to more richness and softer acidity. I guess one could say it’s kind of like the Chardonnay of Galicia, but if it’s not managed well in the vineyard it can lose its freshness more quickly; but at Paraguas it’s done quite right and surprisingly taut for this grape. If you buy this mix of ten wines, try this one after you’ve gone through the other whites so you are more familiar with the way the individual rock categories feel in the palate before you get the one-two punch here. Intrusive Igneous & Metamorphic Rock Red Continuing on with the igneous and metamorphic vineyard mix, and because our first red is from the Ribeiro and extremely elegant, I put Cume do Avia's Colleita 6 as the starter in the lineup of reds. The vineyard for this wine is not far from Paraguas, deep inside the Galician Massif. As mentioned in the last white, many factors are at play in the Ribeiro. But there is also the proximity of the land to the Atlantic, the constant whistle of fierce winds that bring in fresh air and help grapes to stay somewhat dry in this pest-rich environment. And of course, there is the richness in diversity of the bedrock and topsoil composition. The bedrock and topsoil in Cume do Avia’s vineyards add great breadth to their wines and from one meter to the next they can quickly alternate. Here you’ll find a kaleidoscope of different intrusive igneous rock, metamorphic schist and slate. The soil grain is equally diverse and randomly shifts back and forth between sand and clay. The soils are dark orange, white or brown, depending on the mineral makeup. It’s an extremely complex area within only twenty-two acres. What is incredible about this wine made principally from the grapes Brancellao, Caiño Longo and Souson, is that it is so sleek, elegant and low in alcohol (11%) and looks like it won’t feel or taste like anything, but nothing could be further from the truth. When this wine hits your palate, and the weight of all we spoke about—the front palate from the intrusive igneous rock, the side and middle of the metamorphic rock, and now all the different grains of soil from sand to clay—flood the palate with an unexpected weight and pressure, like you have a mouthful of buckshot (the small metal balls inside shotgun shells) resting on all points of your mouth with the added electricity that metal brings to the tongue. It’s really quite fascinating how this level of complexity happens with such a humbly-priced wine, but for me these elements point to the rock medley the grapes are grown in. Metamorphic Rock Reds We have two wines on this offer from Breogan Rodriguez, the one-man show at Terra Brava. Breo’s wines come from three hectares of steeply terraced vineyards in the Amandi sub-region of Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra, on Spain’s ancient Galician Massif. The vines face south and southwest on shallow decomposed gneiss and slate terraces with topsoil derived from the bedrock and kept in place by the terraces. Cool air from the Atlantic and warm air from the Mediterranean influences the climate, creating a tug of war that usually brings beautiful balance to the growing season. However, this is extreme wine country in every way—hot summer days, cold nights, heavy rains, unexpected hailstorms in the summer, etc. And it’s the most fun place to bring someone who hasn’t been there before to hear the gasps and oohs and ahhs as you drop into the gorge from seemingly a mildly hilly country road—just like many of the entry points to Germany’s Mosel River Valley. It’s an impressive place and it’s impossible to capture the literally breathtaking intensity of it in a photo. I admire Breo and his fine craftwork in the cellar and organic practice in this extreme and sometimes brutally harsh work environment. Terra Brava's "Xastre" could easily be mistaken for a wine from France’s Northern Rhône in taste, were it not for this mix of indigenous Galician grapes that bring their unique stamp unlike any others outside this part of the Iberian Peninsula. This is no surprise because most (some would say all) of the best vineyards in the Northern Rhône Valley are remnants of Pangaea's Variscan mountains. They share a similar geological history and makeup, with their intrusive igneous and metamorphic rocks. This wine, made of 85% Mencia, is seductive with fresh berry and earthy nuances along with a natural propensity for being a strong transmitter of mineral and metal impressions, associated with the bedrock it's grown in. The textural grit is expansive and the pressure of the finish is clearly weighted in the back and side palate on the finish. The next wine is the Terra Brava "Lagar do Breo." It’s made with 95% Caiño Longo, an indigenous grape specific to this area of the Iberian Peninsula that will catch your full attention with the first taste. It can be freakishly acidic for a red wine, but it delivers a full range of complexity that is undeniably noble, and somehow balanced. This must be the most overlooked mega-talent on the list of the world’s great grapes, at least from what I’ve tasted. I guess one could criticize Caiño Longo for not being so subtle, but the wine as a whole can be layered for days and may in the future stand tall next to the world’s elite grapes. There is some kind of beautiful rage inside Caiño Longo and its naturally high acidity hums like an overhead power line, much like a Chenin Blanc from the hill of Brézé, in France’s Loire Valley. And, like a great Côte Rôtie or Cornas that shares some likeness to this wine, you must take your time to see all it has to offer, and you surely will have the same effect on the finish of the wine's mid and back palate. There are layers and layers to discover here and given that there are so few wines made with almost 100% Caiño Longo, it would be a waste (but not entirely) to gulp it down and not give it the time to fly as high as it will go. Finally, we jump to Beaujolais. We are now entering France’s Massif Central, home to so many great wines of France. I saved Thevenet for last in the discussion because of the power of the 2015 vintage. Sure, 2015 has its detractors because of this power, but when we speak about balance, it can exist on all levels, whether gentle and soft, or brutally strong. 2015 Beaujolais is no exception to this. It is indeed a vintage of impressively high natural acidity and higher alcohol than usual, but it also has a profound well of complexity that could help its wines ride as far and long as any vintage before it. The detractors? They are mostly Beaujolais drinkers newer to the game in search of wines that must be under 13% alcohol to be worthy of their appreciation. Sadly, this perspective pretty much shuts the door on many of the world’s epic red wine regions. Wine’s diversity, not its uniformity, is what keeps it interesting. So, we finish with two Gamay wines in Beaujolais grown not more than a few kilometers away from each other, same grape, weather, vinification in old oak barrels, cellar aging, low SO2 regimen and organic farming, but different bedrock and dirt. I’ve not found greater confusion about the geological composition of any other famous wine spot than the Côte du Py. I’ve been on the hill with the geologist Brenna Quigley, talked with winegrowers, looked at everything I can find on the Internet with very little consensus. There are a lot of different explanations that include igneous intrusive or extrusive (volcanic) rock, and metamorphic rock; it’s most often referred to as either a schist (metamorphic rock) or andesite (an extrusive igneous rock, so a volcanic rock formation). Recently I asked Brenna what her general conclusion is for the Côte du Py. Her safe bet is to say that it is likely a mix of meta-diorite (the "blue granite" people refer to), meta-basalt and likely some granite; so likely dominated by metamorphic rock. The Côte du Py is a rounded, freestanding lump of a hill with these rocks scattered about ranging in color from orange to light and dark shades of teal. Important to note is that whatever the rock is, it's incredibly hard and the vineyards are often spare in topsoil, making for straight and powerful wines with more defined lines and a deeper core concentration than what is typically found from wines grown in granite. Wines grown on metamorphic bedrock showcase pronounced unique stony, mineral and deeply metal nuances in the aroma, taste and texture. The most palate impact with this wine rendered from 80+ year old vines is to be found toward the back and sides of the mouth—in the palate it has always felt more like a meta wine to me. Intrusive Igneous Rock Red There is no doubt whatsoever that granite completely dominates Thevenet's Morgon Vieilles Vignes vineyards. The mix comes mostly from vineyards in Douby, with semi-coarse, shallow topsoil and exposed bedrock on the north side of Morgon between the Côte du Py and Fleurie; and the lieu-dit, Courcelette, where his parcel is on soft, coarse beach-like granite sands. Much of these vineyards are on gently sloping aspects ranging from southeast to southwest. There are also rocky sections where the bedrock pokes out, but generally the vineyards are fine-grained to coarse sands. This leads to wines that exhibit elegance and subtlety, but are endowed with great length and complexity from its ancient vines that range between 85-150+ years old. If you’ve read this entire essay on these wines, it may seem redundant to say that you can expect a little bomb on the front palate and remains strong for a good length on the finish. That concludes this extremely oversimplified (though complex) idea that I have observed and discussed at length with wine lovers, wine specialists and scientists, for quite a few years now. I hope you enjoyed it and take the leap to give these wines a swirl. Thanks to MSc in Geology, Ivan Rodriguez, for his assistance on the geological story of Pangaea and the Variscan orogeny.
We can see the light, but we’re not out of the woods yet. One of the most important wine business headlines for us importers happened on March 6th, with the suspension of the tariffs on wine, among other products. The day the news dropped, a steady stream of messages from our producers flooded my phone, along with all my other receptacles of communication—the variety of which is head-spinning these days… The tariffs had kicked off a series of unfortunate events for many of us in the businesses of fine food and wine. While we’ve all eked out some wins, starting with the presidential election (I’ll be happy not to get more grief from our winegrowers about Trump!), followed by the surprisingly rapid distribution of Covid vaccines in the US—a stark contrast to what’s happening in the EU; here in Portugal they’re projecting that at this rate, people my age won’t get the vaccine until September. With the tariff suspension we can see the light, but we are far from out of the woods. Naturally, after a couple steps forward there’s inevitably a step back: right now, containers outbound from Europe are so backed up that it’s basically impossible for any wines to run a proper route in decent time. Many shipments are scheduled to take two to four times longer than they normally would—another dinghy race with a broken paddle. Firsthand Europe News Sadly, some parts of the EU are struggling even more than expected right now, especially in the bigger countries, such as Italy and France, where there’s a resurgence that as of mid-March has forced them back into lockdown. Over here in Portugal, we had a startling uptick that went down just as fast, and now we are opening up after Easter weekend, along with Spain. As has happened in many places in the States, it’s been a rollercoaster in the EU; improvements as a result of draconian rule enforcement were undone by sudden and severely relaxed enforcement over summer, fall, and into the holiday season, all of which led to the massive and unchecked return of the curve. Restaurants have been completely closed here in Portugal, except for takeout, but in the countryside it’s not quite the same experience as in a city… Next week may possibly be my first restaurant-cooked meal since I had one in early October of last year, in Bologna, Italy—not a bad place to leave off. The Missing Links A strange reality for us in this extensive pandemic period is that some of the vintages allotted for the US have yet to make it over, and many may not make it at all. As an importer who tries to visit around 90% of our producers each year, these days I can feel a little lost with regard to how some of the new vintages of wines we’ve regularly tracked for more than a decade have currently evolved, from cellar aging to their current state, now that they’re in the bottle. This opportunity to know these kids while they’re young and undeveloped is a unique opportunity for perspective that gives us confidence (or not) about a wine’s future. We know that many of you share this sense of vacancy in the understanding of what’s really going on with many of the wines we’ve kept tabs on all these years—a vacuum of knowledge and experience for these latest vintages. Hopefully we can all catch up together soon and try to continue the streak of understanding our wines from one vintage to the next, and through many of the most formative years that help us with our outlook on where the wine may go based on where it’s already been. While it may seem that living in Portugal should’ve made it easier for me to get samples from our producers and try the wines, it’s not that simple. One doesn’t really propose to have wines shipped—even from producers who are great friends—knowing there is not yet an intent to buy… The only exception I’ve been able to make is with some of our Iberian wines whose makers are relatively nearby, and just a few of our most historical friends, like Arnaud Lambert. We’ve gone national! In California, recent developments seem promising and we hope that trend continues. However, it might come as a surprise to some that we’ve expanded our company outlook to a national platform. Toward the second half of last year, Rachel Kerswell, a beloved member of any wine community blessed with her presence, moved to New York, had a baby right as Covid started to take shape in the US, and then came back into the fold with some serious motivation to develop our national import agenda. Going national was never really part of the plan in the beginning, but Rachel asked for the shot so we could keep working together despite her move across the country, and we sure are glad we bet on her. We now work in nearly fifteen states, and our national portfolio has taken on quite a different focus compared to our California selection: it’s almost an even split between Iberia and France, with some solid Italian and Austrian wines. It really is exciting to progress in new directions, and I’m happy to report that all of our Spanish and Portuguese producers thus far (except Quinta do Ameal) are national exclusives for us. There’s a new geologist at The Source… I stayed quite busy during the pandemic with many other projects other than the daily effort of bailing water out of our company boat and plugging the holes with every finger and toe (with the help of a few deeply committed members who didn’t miss a day of work since the start of the pandemic). About six years ago, we began to work with geologist, Brenna Quigley, at the start of her now flourishing wine career. These days she’s focused on her fabulous podcast, Roadside Terroir, and along with her efforts at a number of California wineries where she helps them better navigate the ground they work to optimize their potential and encourage the voice of their terroirs. So for a while we had a vacancy in the position of resident geologist. In 2018, while fooling around inside the caldera of Basilicata’s famous extinct volcano, Monte Vulture, with the talented and scientifically astute brothers from Cantina Madonna delle Grazie, I finally had a phone call with a Spanish MSc geologist and PhD student from the University of Vigo, Ivan Rodriguez (pictured above), a guy whom I’d been stalking on the internet for a couple of months. Vigo is about a forty-five minute drive from where I live in Portugal, so the proximity was perfect. I was looking for another talented and young (I do prefer the open minds of young scientists), to help me continue to push my Sisyphean wine’s-relation-to-geology-curiosity-stone up the hill of nonstop roadblocks, curves and, sometimes, complete dead ends. I’ve not given up on trying to better understand the links between the wine and the rock, but I’ve begun to focus more on documenting information with greater accuracy so that maybe someone smarter and more talented than I am will be able to take real data and narratives that are peer-reviewed by historians, scientists and winegrowers, and make more sense of it. Upcoming Geological Map Series We have a series of geological maps that I developed with Ivan and Andrea (my wife), that we will begin to circulate soon. We started with the lower-hanging fruit of Galicia and Northern Portugal because of its lack of more in-depth coverage on the subject (at least in English), its need for illumination on its geology and grape varieties, and because it’s now my backyard and a major focus for our company. Some of the maps will have essays that go into greater depth on specific regions with mostly a technical vantage point. The maps may seem simple (by design), but they take a great deal of work to develop the finished products. Is anything actually going to arrive in April?? Yes! But we should’ve had a full boatload (literally) of wines arriving from Europe this month, but clearly haven’t received them due to all the massive delays. Some of the top-tier goodies include the 2017 vintage wines from Simon Bize, which I’ve tasted here, in Portugal, thanks to the Wasserman’s coordination with Chisa Bize to get some wine over to me to enjoy; it’s a truly breakthrough vintage for the Bize team with a slightly gentler disposition than the entire range had in the past few years since the passing of Patrick Bize. There’s also a big mix of vintages from Guiberteau as well as the wines of his partner-in-crime, Brendan Stater-West. There’s a lot more on order, but they probably won’t start to hit the warehouse until May. Making the rounds this month We’re extremely happy to add a new producer from Bramaterra, in the Alto Piemonte, to our roster of Italian gems. Our collaboration with Andrea Monti Perini (pictured above) has been in the works now for more than a year and a half, though we’ve obviously had a little trip-up along the way. (Most of our San Francisco and Los Angeles sales team visited this true garage-sized cantina exactly one week after landing in Milan on the Sunday the news broke about Italy’s pandemic surge!) Andrea, a one-man-show, is crafting perhaps the most understated and subtle Nebbiolo wines within his region; of course, this means that his wines could be a top contender for the most understated and elegant young Nebbiolo wines in all of Italy. The production is tiny (200-250 cases annually) and his winery project has barely hung in there after the devastating season last year when a major hailstorm left Alto Piemonte, particularly his area, just on the border of the Lessona appellation, in ruins. During our visit with many of the great cantinas of the Langhe (team visits for perspective with G. Conterno, Brovia, B. Mascarello, Burlotto, Cavallotto, and more) of the most compelling wines we tasted out of botte was Andrea’s 2019 vintage Bramaterra—simply stunning and an experience we dream about when we taste what many on our team consider the king of all Italian grapes. Around the end of the month, we are going to get a small dose of wines from Riecine, a historic, organic Chianti Classico producer located in the highest altitude zone of Gaiole in Chianti. It’s been a little crazy with these wines because the basic Chianti Classico often seems to evaporate by the end of their first month in stock. Why, you ask? Well, because it’s simply delicious and breaks out of the common must-add-food-to-fully-enjoy Chianti Classico mold. Riecine makes a more upfront fruity style with the entry-level wine, and then there is the Riserva (which isn’t on this container, though we should have it by the fall of 2021), cut from the from old-school cloth: deep, with a broad range of red and dark fruits, foresty, fresh, savory to the bone, and almost unbeatable with backcountry, high-altitude Italian cooking—think Sean Connery in tweed hunting quarry in the Alps. But, in this first offer of 2021 we have the two most sought-after wines in the range. First is Riecine di Riecine, a mean blind-taste for industry professionals because of its regal red-hued, high-on-the-slope Vosne-Romanée nose (minus any wood presence at all because it’s aged for three years in concrete eggs)—think Audrey Hepburn in a black turtleneck with light red lipstick. The other wine, La Gioia, is the most unapologetically delicious and voluptuous red in the range and has all the trimmings that drive tasters— those who want a lot of personality, curvature and sensuality in their wines—utterly mad; it does have a bit of newer oak too, but it wears it like Sophia Loren wore red dresses in the 1950s) utterly mad. Oh, and La Gioia and Riecine di Riecine are both 2016s! Quantities are very limited, but midway through last year I asked our friends at Riecine to hold some for us so we didn’t miss this gem of a vintage while we waited for things to begin to open up again. Lucky for us, these wines are almost here. In Portugal, we have another gem from Trás-os-Montes, Menina d’uva. The resident maker, Aline Dominguez (pictured below), a French native with Portuguese parents, found her way back to her parent’s familial countryside after years of extensive education in a multitude of universities along with experiences working wine bars in Paris and wineries in Burgundy. Her wines are a new take for the region, just as those from the nearby Arribas Wine Company (a new producer we just introduced last month with immediate success, i.e. overnight depletion of the single pallet of wine we had for the US), that follows the line of “natural trimmings,” but with more of a finishing touch to keep them from the funk often associated with wines made in this style. Strongly textured in the palate, the aromas are lighter and brighter, with some elements of reduction at first after opening, and this is by design, in order to enable her confidence with using much less sulfur than is often used with normal still wines. With some air and patience they deliver an authentic array of characteristics from this unique corner of Iberia. Aline is a special one. What the heck is happening in Chile and its Itata Valley?! There seems to be an explosion of interest in the area, and I’m happy to say that we got there early (thanks to my Chilean wife and our visits to her family over the years), and I think we have one of the very best in Leonardo Erazo, with his A Los Viñateros Bravos range of wines and his estate-owned vineyard wines bottled under the Leonardo Erazo label. Leo recently quit his activities working double time with his project as well as being the primary wine director for the Altos Las Hormigas project, which has a fully working program in Cahors, France, and another in Argentina’s Mendoza wine region. Leo’s Itata Valley wines were already superb, but with his full attention solely on his own project, it has truly found another level. Last year, Andrea brought home some of Leo’s wines from Chile for me to taste, which of course found their way to blind-tastings with a bunch of top winemakers in Galicia and Northern Portugal. I thought it would be interesting for them to blind taste wines (included in the mix were those of Pedro Parra’s delicious wines from Chile) grown on the same type of granitic bedrock and topsoil that many of these winemakers work on. Almost everyone guessed that these wines were Beaujolais—no surprise… Beaujolais is largely granitic too, just like many wine regions in Galicia and Portugal (same geologic era, too), and from some mineral and textural profiles they’re nearly identical. Don’t miss out on this new batch of Leo’s wines. They’re stunning, and for the price they’re unbeatable for terroir-driven wines that are superbly crafted and deliver a great amount of emotion and pleasure. New Producers On the Horizon I don’t know why this is all happening so fast (well I guess I do…), but we continue to amass almost an entirely new portfolio of exciting wines. In Spain, we’ve just snagged a great winery partnership in Navarra. Yes, I’m aware of the reputation of good-but-rarely-compelling wines from Navarra, but for good reason the guys over at Aseginolaza & Leunda have captured the attention of Spain’s new generation of growers, sommeliers, critics, and wine journalists. The recognition these two environmental biologists are getting is not surprising because they masterfully capture the essence of Garnacha (and other local, indigenous varieties) reminiscent of in-balance Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines of old, with a solid Spanish flare. This is exciting and authentic stuff, and doesn’t carry CdP prices. Others new Spanish additions mentioned in last month’s newsletter are Fazenda Prádio (Ribeira Sacra), Augalevada (Ribeiro), César Fernández Díaz (Ribero del Duero), and Bodegas Gordón (the wines of the famous Castilla y Leon steakhouse, El Capricho). Another next-generation Portuguese project is Quinta da Carolina, taken over by the son of the family winery, Luis Candido da Silva, one of the winemakers at Dirk Niepoort’s empire. A random search online for producers from the Douro led me to send Luis a message, while he had already been advised by the guys at Arribas Wine Company to contact me—serendipity! A lunch together at my place with a salt-roasted, wild Atlantic sea bass (called branzino in Italy, robalo in these parts) was knocked out of the park with the accompaniment of Luis’ off-the-hook Portuguese white wine, with its perfectly balanced mineral drive and Richard Leroy-scented reduction (but far cleaner, refined and completely measured), along with an Arnaud Lambert-like refinement and energy. I am certain that this white wine was the most compelling unfinished (at the time, bottled at the end of March) white wine I’ve tasted in Portugal. However, the majority of the production is a range of reds that maintain that wonderfully cool, slatey mineral and metal freshness on the palate. Once Luis took over the family estate just five years ago (although he’s been working in the vineyards since he was eight), organic conversion began and all the wines started their baby steps backward in alcohol and extraction—a wise move to not upset the family with too dramatic a change so quickly, and a good long-game strategy to not have the age old tension between father and son come into play. There are wines that are experimental, but most are more in the vein of the classically-styled European wines with a lot of personality from both the terroir and its cellar and vineyard master. His wines will be a welcome balance to our Portuguese collection. Falkenstein, perhaps Italy’s most famous Riesling producer, has been on my radar since I first tasted a Riesling about eight years ago over dinner with Matilde Poggi, from Le Fraghe winery, in northeast Italy, near Lago de Garda. Matilde is the rare producer who doesn’t just taste her own wines during a meal with her customers, but also pours other inspiring juice. I was smitten at first smell and taste; the wine bore the mark of a familiar bedrock type that immediately transported Donny (the co-owner and co-founder of The Source) and me to Austria’s Wachau. To test our theory, Matilde phoned Franz Pratzner, her good friend and Falkenstein’s visionary, to ask about the bedrock. We were right: these wines are as much Austrian in style as they are Italian in the sense that the bedrock is indeed mostly gneiss and other hard metamorphic rocks; and not surprisingly, Pratzner worked for some time in Austria’s Wachau wine region, too. Even better news is that the Pratzners have now worked organically for some years, which clearly upped their game to another level, and I’ve continued to drink the wines every time I have seen them on Italian wine lists over the years. Stylistically, think of the Wachau’s Veyder-Malberg Brandstatt Riesling for purity, mineral characteristics and freshness, with the gusto of a dry Rheingau Riesling from one of Robert Weil’s top sites. For all of us on the sales side (both wholesale and direct to consumers), Riesling indeed remains a labor of love. That said, we’re extremely excited that we have the opportunity to represent this family’s seeming mastery of Riesling along with other great surprises in their range, like their gorgeously compelling Pinot Noir (this wine you’ve got to taste!) as well as their other whites, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon, which are enriched with the same backbone, mineral drive and electricity as the Rieslings. Staff favorites from March 2018 Mittelbach, Federspeil Grüner Veltliner by Leigh Readey, Santa Barbara My first introduction to Grüner Veltliner was around 2009 while I was selling wine for a different company who partnered with a small Austrian importer. In Santa Barbara, I was mostly knowledgeable about (and drinking) classic California grapes, and my tastebuds were blown away by this not-so-fruity and spicy dry wine. With Grüner you can still have a multitude of expressions within a relatively modest price range. I’ll find myself drinking an array of wines but then realize I’m missing something. Then I remember... Grüner. And I realize that’s exactly what my palate is craving. When I found out that we were bringing in a Wachau Grüner from fifth generation winemaker Martin Mittlebach (pictured above) of Tegernseerhof that retailed for around $20, I already loved the wine without even tasting it. This wine delivers the spice in the form of Asian pear and cracked pepper, and the citrus is all things lime and lemony, lemonheads, preserved lemon, and lemon zest. The textural sensation is an experience, the acid so lively it dances around your tongue. It’s become my go-to wine, pairing extremely well with my plant-based diet. This is such a pure expression of Grüner that if it had been my first introduction to the grape, the bar would have been set very high. 2017 Demougeot, Pommard, 1er Cru Charmots, Le Coeur des Dames by Donny Sullivan, The Source co-founder and General Manager Anyone who is fascinated with Burgundy or has had an exceptional bottle of it will find great appreciation for this pick. It’s a true standout that stood tall in a tasting over a year ago, upon the wine’s release, and was considered by many to be the top wine of the day. I have touted the humble and quietly brilliant Rodolphe Demougeot as one of the best hidden-gem producers in the prized Côte d’Or, for years. It’s partially because he is not on the board with top cru vineyards, though his address in Meursault sits amongst some of the biggest names in Burgundy. And he’s not the kind of guy that’s gonna be tootin’ his own horn, so he stays quietly known by those who know. He’s a reserved man who lets his wines speak for themselves and although they don’t shout at full volume, they communicate with intense clarity, detail, meaning, and authenticity. The tastings I’ve had in Demougeot’s cellar remain some of my greatest experiences in Burgundy. Every time I leave the cellar I think to myself, “How could the rest of the world not already know of and covet these wines? I am so fortunate.” Although he doesn’t have a full lineup of top crus, he has this one, his best, and it’s nothing shy of one of the finest parcels of land for Pinot Noir in all of the Côtes de Beaune. Pommard, often known for more sturdy or even harder wines, Charmots is somewhat wedged into a valley crease, where access to water and limestone bedrock is more substantial and in balance with the clay topsoil. This vineyard offers, as suggested by its name, a very charming, expressive and beautiful wine contrary to Pommard’s generalized reputation. Les Coeur des Dames (The Ladies’ Heart), Demougeot’s monopole lieu-dit inside of the Charmots premier cru, is the crown jewel of the domaine and is handled with exceptional care. For many years now it has been plowed by horse and worked by hand with only a minimal intervention of organic or biodynamic treatments. The concentration and intensity in its lifted, somewhat lighter-bodied and fine-tannin structure deliver the juxtaposition we seek in great wines. The spectrum, precision, weave and evolution of aromas is intoxicating, as are the bevy of flavors on both the savory and sweet side of the palate. This wine offers a huge opportunity to food, and to the patient and contemplative taster. Sometimes the stars simply seem to align, and while Demougeot’s cellar has a sky full of constellations, this one is exceptionally easy to pick out! 2018 Christophe et Fils, Chablis By Jon Elkins, Cayucos (Central Coast) California Sharing so many great wines from Europe with my restaurant and retail customers is always a joy. Many of them haven’t really been shown a wide selection of imports, and I love to be the bearer of enlightenment. One of my absolute favorite consultations is the one where I help the buyer choose which of the Chablis producers that I present suits their business the best. Of course I’ve made up my mind as to which direction they should take, but it’s really up to them to decide. There are more than a few things to consider, such as the cuisine; is it forward, minimal, simple but sublime? Or, is it classic, complex, rich and comforting? What’s the vibe like in the dining room? Who are the clients? Recently I found the ideal restaurant to offer the 2018 Christophe et Fils Chablis. The wine buyer is also the chef and it is especially fun for me to present a wine the way a chef would construct a dish, breaking it down into its components and discussing how and why they work so well together, and I find this wine to be so much like a dish that I really want to eat. Sebastien Christophe creates a Chablis that is remarkable in its restraint, its subtlety, its demure elegance, and yet because these characteristics are so thought-provoking, the wine leaves a powerful impression. These same characteristics are what makes the wine such a pleasure to pair with a dish composed in the same fashion. The wine has great clarity, with just the faintest tinge of golden-green hue that shines for you as you swirl it in your glass, the color is that of freshly pressed Chardonnay that never deepened beyond that process. The aromas are all classic Chablis, at their freshest, their most lovely. That flinty wet stone. It’s there, but it’s not so overtly developed to be the first thing you notice, and all the other expected mineral components are present, including crushed oyster shells and fine sea mist, hints of chalky coastal bluffs. The texture is very much alive with that same sort of sea salt and mineral-tinged acidity that escorts the fruit across your palate. The fruit component of this wine? Well, it’s Chardonnay. It tastes like really fine, well-raised Chardonnay from brisk Chablis vineyards. It’s odd to have so much to say about a wine, but when you get to the part about all the expression of various fruit components, there just aren’t loads of comparisons to make. It is what you’d expect, a bit of that just-a-moment-away-from-ripe apple, a bit of lemon, a bit of lime. Together they form a very delicate and lithe little lemon drop candy that sits itself right in the center of your tongue. Savory components, herbs like fresh lemon thyme bring an earthy note. Then a very familiar Chablisienne bitter, almost unripe green almond component comes through on the finish. It’s quite classic, but quite modern in its interpretation. The chef was inspired and prepared a little nibble for us. A crudo of scallops with a splash of a very light and gingery ponzu, a sprinkling of pulverized lemon grass, and just a bit of Thai chili and lime zest. I thought that Christophe et Fils was probably the right choice for this restaurant. Oh yes. ■
Andrea and I started our journey with a much-needed out of wine experience in Scotland on the Great Glen Way with our friends, Reuben, Bella and Benjamin Weininger. I admit that after seven months in Italy it was nice to be in a country where both of us were fluent in the local language; although sometimes Italians speaking Italian are easier to understand than Scottish speaking English. I’d wanted to make that walk in Scotland for a long time. It was memorable, not only because it was the first time I’ve walked/hiked 19.5 miles in a day, but we also found the best fish and chips I’ve ever seen and tasted along the trail. Edinburgh lived up to the hype of its beauty and had an unexpectedly diverse, quality ethnic cuisine scene; we ate some of the best Indian and Korean food while there, and a duck dish that I will remember forever. And I’ve got to give props to the less attractive industrial city of Glasgow for the same high quality of ethnic food. After Scotland we went to Madrid for a few days to wait for two of our coworkers at The Source, Andrew and JD, to join us for a trip in northwestern Spain. After an uneventful couple of days in Madrid that were highlighted on two occasions by visits to the restaurant, Media Ración, we set off for Jimenez de Jamuz to visit with the folks at Fuentes del Silencio and Chef Gordon at the restaurant El Capricho for my seventh meal there (but whose counting?)—never a disappointment. But first, we had to stop at Segovia, one of our favorite small cities in Spain, for a dinner at José Maria to eat his epic suckling pig. Sadly I was a little sick from something I ate in Madrid so I took only a single bite from Andrew’s plate, but it was delish! José Maria probably makes the best suckling pig in Spain, though I am sure there are contenders I don’t know about, and in my last four visits it’s been perfectly consistent. My favorite portion is the leg, so if you get the opportunity to choose your portion, go for that one. We left Segovia the next morning for Jimenez de Jamuz to revisit its ancient resurrected vineyards, discuss the gold in the soil and the local yeast strain that pronounces the unique voice of its terroir, and the early promise of more special wines to come from Fuentes del Silencio and their team of fired up wine pros. Then it was off to El Capricho for the four-hour lunch, and on to the ranch to watch José wrangle some 2000 lbs+ steers with his team. We plan to import José’s delicious wine when he has something for us to sell. We started the next day with an impromptu visit with José Antonio Garcia and his wife, Julia, vignerons in Bierzo, who were kind enough to give us a quick vineyard tour of the area around Valtuille and Corullón. While Bierzo is not part of the Galician wine region, when you start to climb the hills it’s every bit of Galicia when considering its geological heritage. After a walk in the dark red clays of the lower vineyard land, he took us for a quick tour of high elevation slate-dense and quartz-rich vineyards of Corullón. It was my second time with José up the hill and it was as impressive as the first—what a place! Everyone talks about the extremes of the Ribeira Sacra because the vineyards and valley carved out by the rivers are truly breathtaking (a description I will reserve solely for this wine region—a place where photographs just don’t do its beauty justice), but some slopes in Bierzo are just as steep but not terraced like they are in the most steep parts of the Ribeira Sacra, which makes them all the more precarious. Once we got up into the higher areas it began to snow, a signal for us to return down the hill. Next stop, Galicia. The Galician wine scene is inspiring (as are many of the southerly regions of Spain) and I am humbled to become involved and received with such welcoming hospitality. Andrea and I went to Spain on our honeymoon a few years ago and completely missed Galicia as we seemingly went everywhere else in the country—I guess we were saving the best for last. After too many heavy reds on that trip we fell back on beer and Albariño only after the first week of our month long adventure. I asked waiters along the way if there was an organic Albariño on the list, but no one knew of anything. I contacted a certified organic Albariño producer there and started the ball rolling in that direction and imported their wines for a short time afterward. I had no idea that I was walking into a wine world that would capture my attention and consume my focus. When we got back home to Santa Barbara from our honeymoon, a series of events happened that were like a calling to Galicia. It started with our friend Rajat Parr who randomly gave me a bottle of Envínate and said, “you need to go to Galicia.” Brian McClintic, who lived in our back studio at the time, went too and came back with the same encouragement. Then we hired JD Plotnick, a wellspring of information on Galicia, a region he had already focused on back when its newfound uprising was only a whisper. He helped direct my attention to which producers' wines we should seek out during our first trip to set the bar on taste, as well as which restaurants to visit. I asked him if he knew of anything out there that wasn’t already being imported to California, or anywhere else in the US. He gave me many names but one of them was “an upcoming producer” he’d heard about from Raul Perez (Spain’s New Wine Testament prophet), though he hadn’t yet tasted the wines. After one Facebook message to this guy, in Spanish (thanks to my wife), we had a meeting set up. Andrea and I have now been Galicia five times in less than two years (three times in the last seven months), and plan to go back again at the beginning of June and then again in September. I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years but there are too many loose ends and much more context needed before I engage in more extensive writing about it from a technical and experience standpoint. What makes it most difficult to wrap one’s head around is that the locals have to largely rediscover their own region because much of the knowledge has been buried in the local cemeteries with generations past. What also holds me back from going deeper at the moment is that I’m one of the newer importers there and have great respect for those who have focused on this region for so many years before me. I feel I need to earn my stripes first, and only time brings those. Our first stop in Galicia was the Ribeira Sacra to visit a new producer there, Breogan (Breo) Rodriguez, the owner/vigneron at Terra Brava. It was an impressive lineup out of barrel with his miniscule quantities of 2018 (thanks to the monstrous mildew challenges to that vintage), so we expect a great follow-up to his super 2017s. Breo’s wines made from Mencia and Caiño Longo (my new favorite grape) are clean and honest and bear a strong resemblance in mood and some characteristics to Côte-Rôtie and Northern Saint-Joseph Syrahs grown on a mix of metamorphic and igneous rocks; I speak of those cool metal and mineral fresh notes on the palate and nose with darker earth and fruit. The wines just landed in the U.S. and with the enthusiasm of JD, Andrew and Rachel Kerswell (our national sales manager and New York outpost who has visited Breo and our new roster in Galicia), spreading the word on what we were able to buy from this micro producer should be short work. Next was the Ribeiro, a region I think may be the top place to watch in Galicia. I admit that I don’t yet know much about Galicia compared to other wine regions, but over the last twelve years I’ve spent nearly four months of each year on the wine trail observing the physical traits that make up Europe’s top wine regions, which have led me to this hunch. Aside from that, perhaps the most compelling argument is that long ago the Ribeiro once shared Spain’s top honors next to the Rioja for wine and there’s no doubt that it has the potential to rise again to take its place as a contender for top billing. What makes it most interesting from my perspective is the Ribeiro’s perfect location between the climatic tug of war between the cold Atlantic and a warm Mediterranean influence, its great diversity of rock and soil types (all acidic soils with a lot of granite, schist, slate, gneiss and other metamorphic rocks that contribute to a more broad impact on the palate of the wines) on mildly steep hills, and softer sun exposure, resulting in wines with great snap and crunch in both white and red—the latter being the most intriguing to me. The red grapes of Brancellao, Caiño Longo, Souson, Ferron are a few examples of indigenous grapes that show tremendous promise. Our new winery partners there are Bodegas Paraguas, Cume do Avia and Fazenda Augalevada—all tough names (especially the last one) but spectacular wines. To have three producers from this single region seems like a lot at first, but each of them are different shades of the area. Paraguas is exclusively producing white wines led by Treixadura, a grape that in their direction has a Chardonnay-like body and structure, but with almost no relation to Chardonnay’s presentation of tastes and smells—it tastes like Galicia: savory and mineral, with honey, dried grass, citrus and stone fruit. Then it was Diego and family at Cume do Avia with their high energy, organically farmed reds that completely blew my mind last year and redirected my attention to red wine. The new vintage of their whites is a significant jump from last year and shows wonderfully raw, straightforward terroir-rich expressions of indigenous whites. Finally it was Augalevada, the unique embodiment of the biodynamic grower, Iago Garrido, who buried an amphora filled with wine in his vineyard that subsequently developed flor yeast and set the direction of his focus. He thought the wine should be thrown away at first, but bottled them for his friends who began to ask for more and what stood in Iago’s way became his way. As a new winemaker, Iago has demonstrated early his tremendous eye for detail and a few of the wines I have tasted from amphora and barrel over the last three visits are on par with some of the most riveting single tastes of wine I can remember. His estate white, Ollos de Roque, is a magical mystery tour that lands somewhere between Chenin Blanc from Vouvray and Savignin from the Jura, with a subtle touch of flor. Some of the reds out of barrel can, like they did for me, compel you to once again pose those meaning of life questions. Our final visit in Galicia was in the Rías Baixas for a new project with the budding superstar—to be revealed at a later date—whose name was given to me by JD. During my first visit with him a couple of years ago, he politely refused my proposal to work with him in California out of respect for his U.S. importer, who I didn’t know already represented his wines in CA, and who buys as much of his wine as he has to sell. Accepting and respecting the answer but not the defeat, I proposed a new angle on my second visit with him and he was open to it: a project together. Since then we’ve developed a strong friendship and when we visit the area, he literally clears his schedule for us. It’s funny though that he speaks no English and I don’t speak Spanish (yet!), so it’s a relationship that exists through my wife and Google Translate when we are at dinner or lunch together. He asked how I thought he should make the wine for this project but I told him that his approach already embodied all I could dream up in crafting an ideal Albariño: sleek, mineral, energetic but balanced, and a nearly perfect match of intention and execution. I gave a few minor suggestions, which he employed, and the results were staggering—not because of anything I did, but because he’s got the magic touch. I could see it on the face of Andrew and JD as we tasted through the range of unfinished wines over lunch, that they had already sold every bottle of his wine in their minds before they were even finished and brought to the U.S. Those wines will arrive in the fall. It was great to run the route with Andrew and JD, to soak up their experience and passion for Spanish wines and the abundance of conversations about unusual things and trends in wine. Those two could captivate an audience with an unscripted on the road wine comedy show. Even Andrea was laughing out loud regularly by their never-ending conversations full of disagreements and amusing offhanded comments. She can really get sick of the wine talk, but I kept checking in on her through the rearview mirror while she quietly tried to get some sleep as they ceaselessly rambled on about everything and nothing, while at other times she smiled and erupted into hysterical laughter with tears streaming down her face. We jumped over the Spanish border and into Portugal’s Vinho Verde country to one of our favorite spots in the world, Quinta do Ameal, and one of our favorite people, Pedro Araújo. Whenever we find ourselves in Ponte de Lima, a beautiful and well-kept Roman village, in the Lima Valley, we never want to leave. The visit with Pedro was as great as usual and involved his rapier-like delicious wines, epic sea bass and suckling pig, along with the constant feeling that Andrea and I may have found our Elysium on Earth. Ponte de Lima has become such a special place for us; the energy, the humility and kindness of its people, the landscape rich in trees and beautiful rock outcroppings, the ocean a fifteen minute drive away with the Spanish Galician border the same distance. Andrea and I have decided to move to Ponte de Lima after our one-year anniversary of living in Italy. In fact, we’re in the process of buying a house in the countryside (we won’t know for sure if it will be ours until June) and will be setting up our residence there for the foreseeable future. During our time there we invited Pedro, Andrew and JD to check out the place we are trying to buy. Pedro was skeptical before seeing it because he knows the land so well and what’s available out there, but once we arrived he went crazy for the place. It’s located up a ravine near an old monastery and sits out on a point all alone with exposed views on three sides. It’s a lot like Toro Canyon in Santa Barbara (for those who know the area) but with a Midwest U.S. country home price. We’ve fallen in love with it and hopefully the June deal will go our way. Our short trip with JD and Andrew ended at the Porto airport. They were headed to France to run the route over a couple of weeks in Chablis, Côte d’Or and Beaujolais. We spent Andrea’s birthday in Porto, a wonderful city in the middle of a full renaissance. When we were there the first time in 2014, they were selling abandoned apartments in Porto’s historic center for 1€ (no joke!) if you had the money to renovate it. I told Andrea that Portugal was the place to be and I’m even more convinced today. Now the city is full of life, color and people—in a very short time so much has happened in that city and the changes are welcome, except for the new busloads of tourists. A tip: If you ever stay there, try the Sheraton. They have the best spa facilities we’ve been to for a hotel in their range and the staff is extraordinarily gracious and attentive. Andrea and I headed south from there to visit some parts of Portugal we hadn’t already seen. First stop was the Alentejo region in a shockingly beautiful ancient roman city, Evora. I got a much-needed haircut but was treated to a monster of an allergy attack from all the surrounding grassland. Happy to leave because I could hardly breathe, we went south to Faro and stayed at a decent beachfront hotel on the ocean. The highlight there was the Portuguese hospitality and a great little lunch spot called Zé Maria. It served up a perfect beach day lunch because the food was simply prepared and not overdosed on anything, including the price—my whole grilled sea bream was only 15€. Sadly, they are only open for lunch otherwise we would’ve eaten there for every meal. The final stops on this leg were in Jerez and Cádiz, two places we were near but never made it to on our honeymoon. We went this time to meet a prospective producer, but our first stop was in Sanlúcar de Barrameda at one of Jerez’s legendary bodegas, Barbadillo, with Armando Der Guerrita. In our short time with Armando, he overflowed with enthusiasm about Jerez and the magical effect of the flor yeast, as well as his opportunity to work as the wine director of a new inside project for the bodega. Armando also owns a drinking hole, Taberna Guerrita, which comes highly recommended (though we didn’t make it there) and is apparently the place to go if you are a Jerez (Sherry) nut. He explained during our visit that in Jerez, it is all about the yeast and the bodega and its buildings, each with their own influence over the wines they house. I brought up certain estates where I know this to be true on the wine route, like Château Rayas, or many of the Burgundy domaines that carry a mark of their cellar as much as they do the hand of their maker. He looked at me and with a resounding response, he said, “yes, of course!” He’s a special guy and Jerez is lucky to have him. After a quick bite of Spanish seafood and vegetable tapas, we headed south to Cádiz. What a city! Surprisingly clean, it has stunning ancient architecture and a spectacularly modern San Francisco-like (toll free) bridge that Andrea would have simply refused to drive over if she was behind the wheel due to a slight phobia she’s recently developed with bridges. After a mix-up in scheduling, our visit with the producer we came to Jerez to see was given by one of the cellar hands, a gracious and young fourth-generation bodega employee (something you definitely don’t hear everyday). It seems Jerez is another one of those Spanish wine places overrun by importers on the hunt. There’s not much left to choose from, but the good news is that new young producers are on the rise. The challenge is the uphill battle for any mainstream market share because Jerez is not a typical wine and there is a lot of this unique wine produced. Many of the new upstarts are playing with non-traditional wines, like straightforward still white wines, from the same vineyards, which have a much greater chance of breaking into the mainstream. Despite being utterly different wines, I found Jerez to be some kind of mirror, or doppelganger, of Champagne in some ways. It has similar limestone bedrock and limestone rich topsoil, the topography is not so different with relatively flat landscape with undulating soft hill slopes and the juxtaposition of colorful farmland on the flat, non-vineyard areas, and a wine industry based around a unique wine style. They both take a lot of time in the cellar to develop their depth and are often blends of different vintages to bring more complexity and balance. It wasn’t so long ago that Champagne discovered its true talent for bubbles, which was first recorded in the early to mid-1500s; similarly, Jerez’s development of wines under flor yeast and the solera system apparently originated in the late 1700s in the humid climate of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The last similarity I will point out is that like Champagne, Jerez has a lot of work to do with regard to farming and boutique wine crafting. Indeed, Champagne is light years ahead of Jerez, but the output similarly remains vastly controlled by the big houses, as it does in Jerez. Most of the vineyards we drove by in Jerez were over cropped and showed obvious signs of chemical farming. The bodegas are huge industrial operations with staff managing their cellars who likely have no inputs or have anything to say about the wines, which we witnessed firsthand (excluding Armando, of course, who seems like the walking historian of Jerez)—in other words, they are the antithesis of boutique and are difficult to get behind as an importer who prefers to work with small growers that know great wine starts in the vineyard. I am not blind to the fact that with the low price of most Jerez wines that take a lot more time in the cellar to produce makes it difficult to justify more idealistic approaches in viticulture and detail work in the cellar and still make a profit. Once consumers are willing to pay the higher price for higher quality Jerez wines, it seems the doors will open for agricultural idealism to gain a solid foothold and the cellars will naturally improve where they can as well. It’s the same argument for a place like Saumur, France, which clearly has the weather, soil type and a great white grape (Chenin Blanc) to make truly compelling sparkling wines, but few are willing to pay the higher prices for a non-Champagne sparkling from a region that has churned out some pretty good bubbles at a modest price. So what’s the incentive for the producers to ignore the costs and go for the gold medal? During our chat with Armando, he made sure that we understood that the renaissance has begun with some tiny unknown producers, and that some of the larger bodegas are coming out of the of the smog of industrial times and seeing the potential of improved quality if attention is placed on the vineyards instead of only the cellar—what a concept! And that’s a wrap on a rookie perspective on Jerez. As we returned to Sevilla to fly back to Italy, we accidently found ourselves with six hours to spare literally in the middle of Sevilla’s big annual festival, called Feria, and what luck! Sevilla is one of the great cities of the world and to see this classy, familial, deeply cultural affair took our experience there to a totally different level. From there it was a short flight to Roma, where our luck continued when we found that all the national monuments and buildings were open and free for everyone for the day! We went to the Palatino and Colosseum and there were no lines… that would never happen any other day of the year. Is there any city in Europe that tops Roma in history and beauty? Not for me. Ciao.
Pedro Araujo (Portugal’s Peter Pan) is a special person. His family’s wine heritage found a new direction when his father and his grandfather (the famous Adrian Ramos Pinto) decided to sell their Port house, Ramos Pinto. It was always a dream of Pedro’s father to buy this special plot of land, the Quinta do Ameal, just north of Porto, in the Vinho Verde region. After the passing of Pedro’s father, the renaissance of this ancient property began. Until you see it for yourself, you cannot imagine the scope of detail and authenticity that has been put into recreating the past and merging it with today, in both design and spirit. Once you set foot on the property, it is clear without even the need to ask if the vineyards and the grounds are tended with an organic practice. which they are. The entire property is densely green with life. No matter where you roam, there are happy bugs circling the air that seem to be infused with Pedro’s boyish charm and lust for life. It is a place that you won’t want to leave once you are there.
I first met José while on the wine trail with my wife, Andrea, and the well-known food and wine writer, and good friend, Jordan Mackay. Jordan was writing a book on steak and at the end of our tour through Italy, France and Galicia, on our way to the Madrid airport, he wanted to stop by José’s restaurant, El Capricho, located in the far western end of Castilla y León, at the foothills of Galicia’s portion of the Iberian Massif. While sitting in the lobby of our back country Spanish hotel with jamon hanging from the ceiling and the televisions blaring sports and the news on all sides of us, I began to ask Jordan about this restaurant that we were about to go to. He started telling what he knew of José’s story over a pregame beer in the hotel lobby and suddenly pointed at one of the televisions with a reporter and a guy in a chef coat next to some huge cattle. “That’s the guy. That’s José!” José has been a celebrity chef in Spain for a while. But once descended into the dark, orange-hued, dimly lit, and deeply shadowy clay cave of El Capricho and walk past table after table, catching unfamiliar words spoken by familiar accents from all corners of the globe you quickly realize that he is also world famous. Literally out in the middle of nowhere, meat foodies are drawn by legendary tales of steaks impossible to find elsewhere: extensively dry aged, old buey, not animals that are eighteen months or three years old fed on grain, but rather seven to fifteen years old and raised on the natural grasses and wild herbs of this desolate but visually stunning countryside whose lowest point is about 800m (2600ft) of altitude; buey raised and befriended by the guy in the chef coat wielding the pirate-sized blade and an ever present smile. As José stands over the table ready to cut and serve your steak, he looks at the meat and knows from which one of his old friends made the “sacrifice” for your meal. This is a different level of connectivity to food. And when you learn about José as a person, the value and the nuance of the food rises to another level.
Finally coming home! (My original home, anyway…) It’s been two years since I’ve been to the US and a lot has happened (including babies!). It will be nice to see all the faces I’ve missed and all the new people I’ve yet to meet in person. I’m especially happy that I’ll be seeing my father, who turned eighty this year and has gone through a rough patch with his health. It’s hard for us expats to have such a separation from our families for so long and I’m glad that the dry spell is coming to an end. New Videos and Maps on our Website There’s a new terroir map this month: Galicia’s Rías Baixas, which also includes Portugal’s Vinho Verde sub-appellation, Monção e Melgaço, because of their common thread and focus on Albariño (Alvarinho, in Portuguese). It may be the most colorful map to date, action-packed, with information on rock types, grape codification, altitudes, temperatures, etc., all squeezed into one page. In case you haven’t perused our website recently, there’s a new menu category of Videos that includes some interviews with winegrowers and some fun new drone videos of their land and regions. There are two posted so far and there will be many more to come. The first drone video I did (which was more of a practice effort) is a regional teaser for our new producers in Spain’s Rioja and Txakoli areas, a short piece of eye-candy that covers some interesting ground from earlier this year. It’s fascinating how different the landscape in Rioja is compared to Txakoli, which is barely a half hour drive away from the northern parts of the region. The shots were filmed within a day or two of each other, but the drastically different environments make them seem like they are hundreds of miles apart. The second video (which took me three days to edit because my efficacy with video is dismal) offers a tour of Chablis’ right bank. It’s a hair over ten minutes long, has classical music to accompany the flight, and a lot of information I’ve put in the form of text pop ups in the video to consider with the backdrop of the premier crus, Mont de Milieu, Montée de Tonnerre, and Fourchaume, and, of course, all the grand crus. The material may be slightly dense and sometimes a little fast to take it in one pass, but you can pause and rewind to read, check out the grooves in the landscape, refer to the accompanying vineyard map and contemplate the simplicity and complexity of this wine region. When I am able to finally unplug myself from the unusually high quantity of new producer profiles I need to write for our website, I will get to the left bank of Chablis, along with dozens of other videos I plan to create from the drone footage I shot on my two-month trek through Europe, which only really missed the Loire Valley and Central and Southern Italy. Chablis grand crus Blanchots on the right and Le Clos on the main slope Delayed Containers The logistics of this year have been by far the most difficult to navigate since we started our company a little over ten years ago, and things don’t seem to be getting better. Wines usually take about sixty days to get from the cellar door in Europe to California, but right now they can take up to five months… It’s for this reason that all the “new arrivals” coming in October were written about in our September newsletter because their original projections for arrival (even with a massive time buffer considered) were in that month and the end of August. Most of those wines did arrive on our shores, but the shore is where they stayed for two additional months. Getting them out of port in Europe was difficult enough, but they’ve been just floating out on the ocean close to the port waiting for the go-ahead to enter and unload. So, if you want to read about what new wines will actually be available this month, you can read (or review) our September newsletter. Port of Los Angeles September 2021, Photo by Mario Tama Letting the clowder of cats out of the bag (Yes, as with a murder of crows, clowder is the name of a group of cats.) For many, the pandemic was a waiting game. But for many others in business sectors such as delivery services, agriculture, and construction, they had an actual increase in business (at least over here, in Portugal). As the principal owner of our company, it was a call to action, as it was for most business owners. Sink or swim, right? My wife, Andrea, and I did more than just tread water, we were in an all-out freestyle race in search of new producers, redevelopment of some of our website ideas, online retail work (which saved our butts for many months at the beginning of the pandemic, paying our bills when the wholesale division had dropped to near zero), ramped up our foreign language classes, and tried to make sure that our employees were not sinking too far financially and going completely crazy with so much time to contemplate life and the stresses the pandemic caused for everyone. During this unique moment in history, we greatly expanded into Iberia and picked up a few other producers in Italy, France and Germany along the way. Many of our new producers are not even close to arriving and I wanted to play them close to my chest until they got to the States because I’ve had bad experiences where people changed their minds and pulled out after we had already started to promote them. But given that this month all our new arrivals were already covered over the last two monthly newsletters, it’s a good opportunity to talk about some great new things in the market, and what’s more exciting than that? What follows are short overviews of the upcoming new producers (with less personal narrative than usual) that can be found on our website. For some of these producers, it will be their first time being imported to the US. What follows are short overviews of the upcoming new producers (with less personal narrative than usual) that can be found on our website. For some of these producers, it will be their first time being imported to the US. Incoming new producers mentioned in previous newsletters to arrive in October include Davide Carlone (Boca, Italy), Falkenstein (Südtirol, Italy), Togni-Rebaioli (Lombardy, Italy), La Battagliola (Lambrusco, Italy), and Elise Dechannes (Champagne, France). Elise Dechannes showing her homemade biodynamic tea preparations The Newbies Katharina Wechsler - Rheinhessen, Germany (National, except MN) The German organic (certified) and biodynamic winegrower, Katharina Wechsler, is the owner of enviable holdings in the most famous dry Riesling area of the Rheinhessen (thanks to the local luminaries, Klaus-Peter Keller, and Philipp Wittman), the highlights in her stable include a big slab of the grand cru vineyard, Kirchspiel, and a small chunk of perhaps the most coveted of all recognized grand crus, Morstein. Between these two juggernaut vineyards of dry Riesling, her family owns entirely a large vineyard, called Benn. Only the upper section of Benn on the strongly calcareous sections is planted to Riesling, while much of the lower slopes are a patchwork of many different grape varieties that she loves to play with in her cellar, concocting things that range between pure pleasure and fun, savory orange wines, to more serious classically styled dry wines, like her knockout Scheurebe. The entry-level trocken Riesling will give any dry Riesling in all of Germany a run for the money but showcases the lifted and elegant exotic characteristics of Riesling only found in this part of the world. Artuke - Rioja, Spain (CA only) Artuke’s Arturo Miguel is a quiet but influential leader of a new movement of young Spanish vignerons in Rioja, the country’s most historically famous region. The agenda is to bring attention back to specific terroirs and return the power to the growers themselves. He is the second generation of his family to grow and bottle their own wines since the end of the dictatorship, and when he took control of the family’s vineyards, he converted them all to organic farming. His cellar techniques are straightforward, with older barrels of different shapes and sizes that highlight the differences between the four specific vineyard wines, except for the ARTUKE bottling made with carbonic maceration, a long-standing tradition with local wines, and Pies Negros, Spanish for black feet, a reference to the foot-stomping of the grapes, which is a blend of many different parcels. All wines come from calcareous sandstone (similar in structure and mineral makeup to sandstones from Barolo and Barbaresco) with varying degrees of sand and clay. José Gil - Rioja, Spain (CA only) The young and open-minded José Gil and his Uruguayan life partner, Vicky, are major influencers in the new generation of Rioja grower-producers focused on single-site, organically farmed wines. Located near Rioja Alta’s famous San Vicente de la Sonsierra, most of the vineyards sit at higher altitudes that stretch the limitations of the region’s naturally long ripening season. Employing straightforward cellar practices with fermentation and aging in small to medium-sized barrels, José’s wines are direct, aromatic, fully flavored and driven by each wine’s terroir. José gives weight to the influence of the surrounding area, mostly from the mountains just to the north, and handles the wines gently to retain the area’s identity beyond the vineyards. The production is minuscule but on the rise. Arizcuren - Rioja, Spain (National) Well-known and highly respected architect turned winegrower, Javier Arizcuren is one of Rioja Oriental’s most exciting new talents. With the help of his father, Javier spends his “spare time” focused on rescuing high-altitude, ancient Grenache and Mazuelo (the local name for Carignana) vineyards that managed to survive both phylloxera and the trend of replacing historic vines with Tempranillo, an early-ripening grape that is only a small part of this region’s history despite its dominance today. His experience with architecture leads him down rabbit holes of possibility and experimentation (a rarity in this often predictable and extremely conservative wine region), so that he may better understand the aesthetic of each site and build on its strengths using various fermentation and aging techniques. Aseginolaza y Leunda – Navarra, Spain (National) Environmental biologists and former winemaking hobbyists, Jon Aseginolaza and Pedro Leunda, have directed their full attention to a project focused on a better understanding of Spain’s Navarra, a historical region with a severe identity crisis stemming from its living in the shadow of its illustrious neighbor, Rioja, Spain’s historical crown jewel. Always the bride’s maid and never the bride, the region began to focus on international varieties to stand out and increase its market share. Moving in the opposite direction of this trend, Jon and Pedro are focused on finding and recovering old vineyards planted with indigenous ancient genetic material (mostly Grenache, the historic grape of the region) inside vastly biodiverse areas—all assets that give the region a possible edge on the widely monocultural approach of much of Rioja. The life and authenticity in their first wines (started in 2017) are clear and their future is promising. Alfredo Egia - Txakoli, Spain (National) The wines made in Txakoli by Alfredo Egia are radical for the region but not for the world, since he is fully committed to biodynamic farming and natural wine methods. And with the influence of Imanol Garay, the highly intense and fully committed naturalist from France whom he refers to as his mentor, he’s determined to harness the intense energy of Izkiriota Txikia (Petit Manseng) and Hondarrabi Zerratia (Petit Courbu) to give them an altogether different expression, shape and energy, with a constant evolution upon opening that can last for days. These white wines walk the line with no added sulfur and should be consumed earlier in their life to ensure captivity of their best moment. Whether they can age well or not remains to be seen, but since they have very low pH levels that usually sit below 3.20, and ta levels that can be well above 7.00, they should be insulated for a while. Rebel Rebel is the solo project of Alfredo, and Hegan Egin a joint venture between Alfredo, Imanol and Gile Iturri. Rebel Rebel is a blend of 80% Hondarrabi Zerratia and 20%Izkiriota Txikia. Hegan Egin is a blend of 50% Hondarrabi Zerratia and 50%Izkiriota Txikia Sette - Asti, Italy (National) Asti 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, in Monferrato. Immediately, a full conversion to organic farming began, followed by biodynamic starting in 2020—the latter, a vineyard culture still considered somewhat radical in these parts. The wines are crafted and full of vibrant energy with only a soft polish, with the focus, the slightly turbid and lightly colored, juicy fruity, minerally Grignolino and their two serious but friendly Barberas. 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 – Asti, Italy (CA only) 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 (with the best of all, the cherries!). Their traditionally crafted range of wines grown on soft, purely calcareous sandstones and chalk are lifted, complex and filled with the humble yet exuberant character of the Rava family. Fliederhof - Südtirol, Italy (National) The city of Bolzano and the Santa Magdelena vineyards, home to Fliederhof Martin Ramoser is a true budding young superstar in the wine world, and with the help of his parents, Stefan and Astrid, he’s writing a new chapter in the family’s wine history. Located in Italy’s Südtirol, only a half hour drive from the Austrian border, on the gorgeous and historical hill of Santa Magdalena that overlooks the city center of Bolzano, they cultivate their Schiava and Lagrein vineyards under organic and biodynamic principles. Their mere three hectares of vineyards are all planted on hillsides of porphyry, an igneous volcanic rock with a mix of large and small grain sizes, which makes for sandy, gravelly soils as it decomposes, and results in wines with higher aromas and chewy textures. Martin’s style is one of pleasure led by upfront aromatic red fruits and red/orange flowers with sharper lines, deep but gentle mineral textures and a soft touch on extraction. Imanol Garay - Southwest France & Northern Spain (National) Spanish/French former engineer, 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 Vincent Carême, 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. 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), but with wonderful character-filled and potently nuanced, high-energy wines filled with joy and authenticity, just like the man himself. Tapada do Chaves - Alentejo, Portugal (National) There are few Portuguese wineries as mythical as Tapada do Chaves. Its line of extraordinary successes produced from vines planted in 1901 and 1903 by Senhor Chaves fell off the map when they were sold in the 1990s to a sparkling wine company. The property’s fortune changed with its purchase in 2017 by Fundação Eugénio de Almeida under the direction of Pedro Baptista, one of Portugal’s most celebrated oenologists most famously known for producing Pera Manca, some of the country’s most prized (and expensive) wines. Immediately these historic vineyards planted on a unique granite massif that towers over the flatter lands more typical of Alentejo below were converted to biodynamic farming, priming Tapada do Chaves to reassert itself as one of Portugal’s most preeminent terroirs. The white wines are blends of Arinto, Assario, Fernão Pires, Tamarez, and Roupeiro, with the reds Trincadeira, Grand Noir, Aragonez, and Alicante Bouschet. Quinta da Carolina - Douro, Portugal (National) The Douro property that was once in the hands of California trailblazing winemaker, Jerry Luper, (whose illustrious wine career included tenures at Chateau Montelena, Bouchaine, and Rutherford Hill), has been for years now under the ownership of Luis Candido da Silva, a well-known wine retailer in Porto. Today, the winery has been slowly taken over by his son, also named Luis, and things are going through some noticeable changes the more Luis Jr. commits himself to the project. His day job is working as the head enologist and wine director for the still Douro wine program at Dirk Niepoort’s ever-expanding, global wine empire. Niepoort has a history of recognizing talent and churning out many superstars in Portugal, most notably Luis Seabra, the boys over at Arribas Wine Company (also in our portfolio), and starting in 2018, Luis Jr. The respect he has garnered at a very young age in Portugal speaks volumes for the confidence the local wine world has in him. Exciting things are in store for this very small estate with wines that cover both the traditional style like his father’s, and the extreme progressivism of his generation, with a gorgeous touch, exquisite crafting, and a razor-sharp attention to detail. Expect big things, albeit in very small quantities (unfortunately) from this special Quinta.■ Photo shot from the Quinta da Carolina vineyard
In 2018, Javier Fernández González made a phone call that would alter the course of his already quietly celebrated Ribeira Sacra winery. Born into a family with a history of farming, Javier’s dream of the future went beyond the continuation of his father’s construction business, where he worked during the week. On weekends he focused on a winemaking project with the vineyards, most of which came from the family of his wife, María Jesús. He would go on to increase his family’s vineyard holdings to five hectares, with many old-vine parcels of local, indigenous varieties, along with a large focus on Mencía, the most widely planted red grape variety in Ribeira Sacra. I met Javier once, before he fell ill, but it was obvious that he was a hard worker, as evidenced by the vineyards he planted and the strength of his hands, along with his reputation in the region. My experience with him was of a quiet man, not only because of the language barrier between us—what with his lack of English and my (for now) rudimentary Spanish—but because, as his family says, that’s just the way he was. Not only was he a workaholic, it was clear that he was a deep thinker about his life and what he was doing. Sadly, a few months after my visit he received a diagnoses of cancer. It took only a few months before he succumbed.
The Source’s Most Important Recent Arrivals Welcome to the first official Source monthly newsletter. Yeah, it’s been a long time coming! After a tough economic year for all of us in this métier reliant on hospitality, food and wine, we are gearing up for what we hope will be a strong return before 2021 comes to an end. Hopefully you’ve made the best of a pretty dismal situation to expand in positive directions, and not too much in the waistline, like some of us have. During this quiet time, two of our star cohorts at The Source, Rachel Kerswell and Danny DeMartini, separately brought two new arrivals into the world, offspring that will undoubtedly continue their parents’ positive impact on all of those around them, and judging by our Zoom calls, little Simona and Vienna are happy and healthy kids. I’ve often pondered these pandemic-era newborns and young kids stuck at home, showered with so much love and attention from both parents during their most formative years. I think they’re going to be special kids worldwide, and probably like no other generation in history, who alone may make the troubles we’ve globally endured worth it. By comparison, I suppose we can recall the progeny that sprung from the US during the Spanish Flu, World War I and The Great Depression, those who became known as the “The Greatest Generation.” This new one might be the generational catalyst that provides a strong pivot for mankind and its relation to the earth, led by a deeper well of care, love and gentleness—another thought in the utopian dreams of my optimistic side. As luck would have it, it’s actually been one of the most personally fulfilling years I can remember, on top of so many others that preceded it, ever since I started snooping abroad for wines to send back home to our friends and customers, so they can pass them on to others as well. We’re happy you’ve managed to hang in there and I hope to see some of you back in the States in a couple of months. New Arrivals This month we have the 2017 Poderi Colla Barbaresco Roncaglie and our first red wine from the new and exciting Portuguese producer, Arribas Wine Company. The 2019 Arribas Wine Company Saroto Tinto, a blend of a multitude of Portuguese grapes that most people have never heard of, carries a modest price tag for this low alcohol, high energy, ancient-vine glou glou with some serious trimmings. Quantities are limited, with only 50 cases imported to the US. Next year we will get a bit more. 2017 Poderi Colla Barbaresco Roncaglie The Collas have the potential to produce a lot of wine from their 6.5 hectares of Roncaglie and 8 hectares of Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose, alone, without even counting the other two historic estates they own. But to keep the quality as high as possible, they sell quite a bit of wine made from what they deem to be lower-tier parcels from each specific vintage. This keeps the Barolo and Barbaresco sourced from the best interior plots. Sometimes all the plots render gorgeous wines but some will still be sold off to negociants because the Collas haven’t built a market to support the sale of the potential maximum quantity from their Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards. While I know what I am about to say goes against every sales pitch containing an illusion of scarcity for a particular wine or producer to build demand, I will pivot with Colla when I say that it is my personal goal to make sure that not a drop of this most-deserving of family’s gorgeous wines is ever dumped into the river of innocuous bulk wine from the negociant industry. The Collas are the quiet family who makes the least noise at industry gatherings, who humbly waits for someone to step away from the growers behind the loudspeaker and into a different scene where the wine does all the talking, after which they thank you for stopping by to take a taste. These wines are available to us and it is our unapologetic intention to get them in as a regular fixture within many restaurant wine programs where we want to ensure that they have reliable opportunities to reorder as much as they need, instead of sticking them with only a single case. We want these wines to be solid workhorses in as many places as possible, to spread the joy, and so that those that are in fact relatively rare aren't depleted too quickly. Poderi Colla has been such an important part of our identity, not only within our Italian selection, but our entire company culture and wine preferences. While 2016 is a hard follow (as are the Barbarescos from ’15, ’14 and ’13, on their own merits) this softly sun-touched 2017 Barbaresco Roncaglie will keep up the Colla’s winning streak and surprise most who haven’t yet realized that they are an institution of consistency. My last personal bottle of this wine that I opened just a week ago was simply stunning. A bright and upfront Verduno-esque nose jumped out of its extremely inviting, high-toned, pale reddish/orange color. It was so captivating that it took some time to simply unhinge my nose from the glass to even take my first sip. But, take my advice when I say open it up thirty minutes ahead of time and draw out a touch of wine to get a little microoxygenation working before serving (without necessarily decanting the entire bottle) to let it find its footing on its high profile Barbaresco cru tannins, which seem very stern initially but somehow quickly resolve into refinement with a newly found supple mouthfeel that is hardly even recognizable from the first sips. This is simply a wine not to miss if Nebbiolo with more pleasure than pain is on your horizon—if you can leave it alone for that first half an hour! The aromas of the 2017 Barbaresco are reminiscent of the best of the lifted nuances of the 2011 and 2012 vintages but with even more taut and generous fruit. Within only a short time after opening (while being served with the right food, as it should be with any wine like this crafted for a place at the long lunch or dinner table) the palate and nose begin to become one. Pietro Colla is an impressive young craftsman and his grape-growing team, spearheaded by his father, Tino, continue to deliver on the promise of their historic family’s success. I’m simply impressed by this wine and like so many other Colla wines before, it surpasses my already high expectations for this spectacularly talented Barbaresco cru. Every year the Collas do superb work. Their wines are clean and aromatic, appealing in their youth, but without sacrificing their cellar worthiness to mature, to stretch, to broaden in complexity and narrow each nuance into a harmonious ensemble of finely struck chords. The critics also took notice in 2017, and they seem to have come to understand that Colla’s wines always show up no matter the hardships and complaints of any given year. There’s three hundred years of passed-down knowledge at play with the Collas, and it’s obvious year in and year out. 2019 Arribas Wine Company Saroto Tinto The new and youthful Portuguese winegrowers, Ricardo Alves and Frederico Machado, are at the beginning of their lifelong path to play their part in the rediscovery and redefinition of the unique Portuguese wine region, Trás-os-Montes. In two short years they’ve already made waves with the local administration by creating wines dramatically different from the rest of the region, with very low alcohol, low extraction, high-altitude field blends with sometimes as many as thirty different indigenous grape varieties, as it is with the red wine we started with, Saroto Tinto. Interestingly, just last month they were awarded with “Revelation Producer of the Year” by Wine Magazine. They have other very interesting wines in the range, but Saroto sets the pace for pleasure, intellect and authenticity, at an extremely fair price. The demand for their wines in Japan and Scandinavia is already gobbling up their stock faster than we can get around to buying it. Look for Saroto’s release toward the end of March. The quantities are limited, at 50 cases for the entire US market, and the new vintage won’t come in until much later in the year, which will include their white (orange wine) and a few other higher-end very compelling wines—tastes you may not have experienced before with this enormous mix of grapes and talented terroirs. We’re extremely excited to be a part of their story now. Further On The Horizon Iberian Dreams What a time to turn over rocks in Iberia! You’re going to see a lot of new things continue to roll out of this area in our upcoming offers and sample bags, and our selection of wines from its colder parts in the north has particularly blossomed. Personally, I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to represent such wonderful people making such compelling wines so new to me in a multitude of ways. The benchmarks are all spoken for, so naturally we’re hitting the next generation of winegrowers. The youth in these parts seem infected with a generational ailment whose cure seems to be to get out of the city grind and into the countryside that many of their parents and grandparents vacated in that last century, to get away from the relentless economic woes Spain hasn’t seemed to be able to shake since the sixteenth century. And they’ve come to restore ancient abandoned or neglected vineyards, or in other places reset with new plantations of ancient masale selections of hundreds of grape varieties most of us have never heard of. Over the last four years, we went from one producer in this area to four, to eight, to now fifteen and counting; my sample room is constantly full of new things to explore and most of them are suggestions from the growers we already work with! The camino we walk along in Iberia was paved by the hard work and belief of so many importers before we set foot here, and to them we give great respect and thanks for their groundbreaking expeditions. In all the years of doing this work I am pleased to report that I have never been happier with where we are (despite some of the pandemic’s ramifications) and where we’re going. I’m genuinely excited and ready to return with the spoils given to us by our supporters, those who believe in our efforts and “finds,” and to do our part to contribute to the narrative of Northern Iberian wine. We are learning so many new things that we want to share, just as we’ve always done. Some new names to add to our exclusive national portfolio: Augalevada (Ribeiro, ES), Fazenda Prádio (Ribeira Sacra, ES), Bodegas Gordon (Jimenez de Jamuz, ES), Menina d’uva (Trás-os-Montes, PT), and César Fernández Díaz (Ribera del Duero, ES; previous job was at Comando G). There’s too much to say about each of these new producers in one newsletter, but when they start to arrive you will certainly hear more. Iberia has some of the most exciting depth of discovery in the wine world, and most of the heavy lifting is being done by the most recent half of the Iberian Gen Xers, followed closely by some Millennials. Italia We’ve also picked up some new and thrilling growers in Italy for California and some other states. In Alto Piemonte, we’ve scored with Davide Carlone, from Boca. There is a new horizon for this already talented and continuously evolving winegrower, and that is that Cristiano Garella, our longtime friend and cornerstone of this entire region’s mega growth spurt over the last fifteen years, is now advising Carlone. Carlone brings our tally in Alto Piemonte to four, with Ioppa (Ghemme), Zambolin (Lessona, but labeled as Costa della Sesia), and Monti Perini (Bramaterra). Carlone’s wines will arrive in the late summer/early fall. Up in the alpine foothills of Lombardia, Enrico Togni, a former law school student who left man’s academia for nature’s bounty, is crafting some very interesting naturally grown wines on steep, acidic rock terraces. The first two wines I tasted, a 12% alcohol, dainty but deeply substantial and aromatic Nebbiolo, and a lightly extracted rare red grape, Erbanno, were an exploration into another dimension of alpine red wines. Enrico’s earlier years were marked by a more untamed naturalness and have now matured into something quite nuanced and cleanly crafted. The high CO2 content at the start, left in place during the aging and bottling so as to use as little SO2 as possible, takes some management by decanting, or with a vigorous aeration and some patience to follow. Once through the gas, the wines are striking, emotional and original. The Erbanno is an almost entirely new idea, with its pale colored rendition of a dark grape; think somewhere in the same vein of Grosjean Premetta, Emidio Pepe Cerasuolo, or a light, but non-flor-heavy Jura Poulsard—a pale red, almost more of a rosé. I tasted the wines over two days and the second day was even as good with both, although it was hard to stop drinking them on the first day to save a little for the next for curiosity’s sake. He also makes two different sparkling wines, one from Barbera and the other from Erbanno; both are interesting and, not surprisingly, very good. All of his wines are bottled under a combination of both of his parents’ familial names, Togni and Rebaioli, and will arrive in the third quarter of the year. The quantities will be very limited. An Austrian Reunion We’re happy to announce that the nicest guy in a country of some of the nicest people on earth, Michael Malat, will be rejoining us (in the California market only) after a year and a half away. We’re going to reboot the program with his 2019 vintage, a stellar year for Austrian white wines and clearly Michael’s new gold standard. In this year he added Pfaffenberg to the roster from across the river, on the north side. I had a bottle and Andrea (my wife) and I almost snuffed it inside of an hour before we realized that we were well outpacing our dinner. Everyone on staff is excited to have this special guy back on our team. The first set of wines should arrive at the start of summer. Staff’s favorite wines from February It’s long been an aspiration of ours to bring the voice of our talented wine team to a broader audience. With a strong passion for wine, food and European culture, they are all well traveled in wine country and speak from their own personal experiences on wines that were love at first sight, and many others that slowly grew on them over time and then developed into some of their favorites. All of us wine people are on a constant path of evolution and the things that interest us today may not be as interesting tomorrow. Our team has been invited to write each month for our newsletters about any wine that was a true highlight for them over the last month. 2018 Quinta do Ameal Loureiro by Rachel Kerswell National Sales Manager & New York Lead Salesperson It’s been some time since I cracked a bottle of Loureiro from Quinta do Ameal. While impatiently enduring this New York winter, I often find myself reflecting on this special yet unpretentious Portuguese white wine. One could say it’s simple in some ways, but its versatility around food and profound sense of place can set this wine up to be as deeply meaningful and emotional as any other. In 2018, during a sunnier-than-usual Iberian Peninsula autumn, I was visiting Ameal’s restored, ancient quinta in the Vinho Verde’s Lima Valley. Over lunch—a perfectly premeditated assortment of deeply-flavored fare, clean and full-of-life local vegetables and an abundance of fresh Atlantic seafood —we shared several bottles of Loureiro dating back fifteen years. I’ve been fortunate to experience vintages of this wine as far back as the early 1990’s with the now former winemaker, Pedro Araujo, and though they are all captivating in their own unique way, it is typically the younger vintages that steal the show for me. In its youth, Quinta do Ameal’s Loureiro is etched and incisive but its natural tones of sweet fruit keep it from being abrasive. Pedro raises the wine entirely in stainless steel vats, which keeps its purity and maritime salinity intact. 2017 Fuentes del Silencio “Las Quintas” by Danny DeMartini Northern California Lead Salesperson Fuentes del Silencio’s Las Quintas hails from villages on the high plains surrounding Herreros de Jamuz, an area with ancient abandoned vineyards with many that predate phylloxera. It’s made predominantly from Mencía, with a little Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera) & Palomino. Mencía from Jamuz enjoys a very long growing season, high altitudes (the highest average elevation where Mencía is planted in Spain), cold air currents, and poor soils composed of fine grained silty sand. The combination renders balanced wines with stunning elegance and complexity. Light tannins and expressive fruit are perfectly juxtaposed with raw, earth-driven spice and aromatic lift. Las Quintas stands apart for its immediate appeal and elegance as well as underlying depth and brooding complexity. This wine perfectly illustrates the felicity of Mencía within this region. 2017 Poderi Colla Nebbiolo d’Alba by JD Plotnick Southern California Lead Salesperson I recently had the pleasure of taking out samples of Poderi Colla’s current releases, and while I expected to be enamored with their excellent Barolo and Barbaresco crus, I was reminded just how fantastic their “basic” Nebbiolo d’Alba is. Several years ago when I was tasting and buying wines with Lou Amdur at his eponymous wine shop in Los Feliz, we were constantly searching for affordable nebbiolos that were expressive, floral and aromatically compelling. Things that, to us, tasted like “real nebbiolo.” Most affordable nebbiolos, it turns out, are rather boring. Not necessarily bad, just not exciting. An annual favorite of ours was always Brovia’s Nebbiolo d'Alba, but the problem with that wine (and every other nebbiolo we seemed to fall in love with) was that we could only get one to two cases per year; clearly not enough to work with year-round. When I started working with The Source and tasted Colla’s Nebbiolo d’Alba for the first time, I immediately thought that this was the wine I had been looking for: an organically farmed, beautifully expressive nebbiolo that is actually affordable and in decent supply, it’s uniquely approachable when young, and bursting with all of the savory, umami nuances I look for in great nebbiolo. Quiet European Adventures In A Pandemic Year by Ted Vance Andrea (my wife) and I moved to Portugal two Decembers ago after a chaotic and eternally memorable year in Italy’s Campanian coast. We got out of Italy just in time for the pandemic to drown the world in despair, starting with where we’d just left. Our Italian friends said their parents regularly commented that Italy's draconian confinement was like the confinement during wartime years, and there’s still a big group of old Italians who know all about that, firsthand. We miss the ferry rides from Salerno to all of the Amalfi Coast fishing villages and the warm, salty Mediterranean, the endless supply of anchovies and spectacular seafood, bufala mozzarella and fresh ricotta from Vanulo; and then there’s the epic summer infused pastas and the real deal Napoletana Margherita pizzas for 3.50€ to 4.50€—so basically, free. Food and wine writer, and dear friend, Jordan Mackay, regularly says, “It’s hard to get a bad meal in Campania.” There were too many good ones to count and there’s hardly evidence of a bad one within the neurological scramble of my brain. We couldn’t have picked a more civilized modern country to hide out during what has been for so many a difficult and cruel time. The Portuguese took it in stride and without panic; the middle-aged and senior population of the country just got free from a terrible dictator fewer than fifty years ago, so they’ve seen much worse, in different forms. The Portuguese are special people (as are their ancient, gentle kin across the border up in Galicia) and they’ve done nothing but welcome us to their country and help, help and help some more. We’ve already made great friends—true lifers, these ones—in the wine industry and outside, too. This year was my most academically focused year to date. Italy was a solid gearing up to my output, but I feel I’ve found a stride on some new level. So much study and research, and boundless time to work uninterrupted on my writing and English and local language skills, which have been as enriching as anything I’ve done before it. (I never went to University, but I very much crave education.) I know I’ve progressed from where I started six years ago when I penned my first short essay about a thirty-hour awakening through a bottle of 2009 Pierre Overnoy Poulsard I nursed alone that finally ended in disaster—that is, the bottle was eventually empty… But with the turning of each page in books by literary luminaries, a lifetime of strong headwinds has been revealed to me, an endless—and welcome—intake of humble pie all the way to the end. Language has always been of interest to me. After flailing with Portuguese for the first six months, I knew I needed a stronger base. One day, after envying Andrea’s easy assimilation (she’s from Chile), I asked her how much of Portuguese is only slightly different from Spanish. “Maybe 80%?” She said. So I was doing it wrong… That prompted me to immediately dive into Spanish, a language I knew would be the easiest for me after many years of studying French, followed by some dabbling in Italian. It was the right move. Portuguese will likely be a painful slog, but the Spanish is already breaking through the Portuguese cloud in my head. Reading Portuguese is easy if you have a decent grip on another Latin language, but as I try to make sense of the spoken word, it could just as well be Ukranian. People—non-Portuguese people—say that Portuguese is like a drunk Russian trying to speak Spanish, with which I would heartily agree. Andrea and I got out a few times when Europe completely opened up to countries inside the EU. We know that restrictions have been different everywhere, and during this last year in Portugal we’ve been on lockdown for nine out of the last twelve months with everything proposed to continue until the end of this April. Once California’s restaurants shut down, our company’s cash flow did the same, and we all hunkered down and began the hibernation. Thankfully our growers have been patient and supportive because they are all in the same boat; plus, we all need each other as the gates begin to open. Trying to pay bills during this time was like trying to propel a dingy without a paddle, and because they weren’t small, I didn’t think it wise to post our meanderings on social media; otherwise my new strategic location could have been a terrible oversight: it’s a lot easier to reach me during a pandemic from France when I live in Portugal than when I’m in California! All of us needed some refuge from the pandemic, and when we were given permission we took advantage of it. The highlights of our brief opportunities to get out while the restrictions were lifted across Europe started with a twelve-day drive across Spain’s north coast in July. We started in Galicia, and then made our way through Asturias, Cantabria, País Vasco, and the Costa Brava for a week in Sant-Feliu de Guíxols. Between Sant-Feliu de Guíxols and S’Agaró, on the Platja de Sant Pol beach, there’s a restaurant with a decent wine list and fabulous food with the little bay in front, a perfect Spanish stand-in if Fitzgerald had chosen to set Tender Is The Night in Spain instead of the Côte d’Azur. The restaurant tour along the north coast was altogether wonderful, and felt like one generous gift after another in both food and wine. The dream candy goes to the Asturian coast, a place that is unique and almost surreal; some places felt like you were the first and only person to ever set foot on that section of the beach, crag or cliff. If there were ever a countryside that could give me courage to extract a novel within my lifetime, that coastline might be the place. One could be brought to tears, just as my sister, Victoria, was the first time she walked into the piazza of Italy’s famous Amalfi Coast mountain town, Ravello, with the limestone cliffs and the view of the turquoise sea far below; the sheer natural majesty of some places in the world can sometimes be overwhelming. While the EU lockdowns were lifted and the borders still open until early October, we went to visit our good friends, Max Stefanelli and Francesca Sarti, from the Terroni Restaurants in Los Angeles, who unexpectedly committed to a yearlong sabbatical in Bologna with their three kids in tow—so young they are, all five of them! Sadly, they decided to close their downtown location permanently and were in need of a moment away to reset. The tickets were already booked before we got off the phone with Max when he broke the news. It was the first time for both of us in Bologna (what a terribly overlooked city!), Modena and Venice, and we didn’t want to leave as Max drove us back to the airport some days later. We stayed at the famous Hotel Principe, close to the train port, in Venice. The clerk’s light blue eyes nearly fell out of his head when we passed our two American passports underneath the newly installed protective glass. Aghast and giggling like a schoolboy meeting the couple on a poster in his childhood bedroom for the first time, he explained that these were the first American passports he’d seen since March. He got emotional; we couldn’t see anything else on his mask-covered face but his slightly welling eyes—they somehow expressed relief, and even more, hope. It was the end of September, and this was probably the first six-month stretch in any Venice hotel since before the spring of 1945 without a single American occupying a room even for just a night. We saw the world’s most famously overrun tourist city—the world’s living museum—with only the company of European tourists; no boatloads or droves of busses with foreigners on a speed tour with all their memories being captured in their phones instead of their minds. On the streets it was calm and surreal at night, and quite busy during the daytime. It seemed like a different pandemic already wiped out a lot of Venice before we arrived, and that I was the only American (Andrea is Chilean) in the entire centro storico. I felt a little like I wasn’t supposed to be there, like I’d entered a new Forbidden City. Even the gondoliers, suited up just like the postcards promised, were begging us to take a ride. On one of the three nights there, only two people and a couple bands of pigeons shared the entirety of Piazza San Marco with us under the moonlight and the platinum and gold reflections of the piazza lights on the wet rock floor with the fresh, muggy, and salty Adriatic breeze. Venice is almost an unbelievable place, like something out of fiction, like it can’t possibly be real. Like many cities at night during this pandemic, at some moments Venice was all for us, and that was even more unbelievable. ■
A path along Scotland's Great Glen Way Here we are again with yet another new year after one that seems to have blistered by. Indeed, it wasn’t a complete year on our business end, what with the restaurants not opening until after the first quarter, but from there it quickly picked up momentum. I got home to Portugal a couple of weeks ago after a two-month California trip that was capped by my catching a strange (non-Covid) bug that was mild but lasted for more than three weeks; it even moved into my chest and called for antibiotics to head off the possibility of pneumonia. I wasn’t able to see everyone I wanted to see, but I was happy to get together with many of my friends and family, and to connect with our company staff on a deeper level than a Zoom call. I’m so proud of each of them and feel privileged to work with such talented and thoughtful people. Inflation. Wow! I remain shocked by the overall price increases of food products at the grocery store and in most restaurants, and some of our growers are feeling the brunt of the trend, saying that it’s all due to material shortages from freight delays, etc. But what I’ve seen so far from them is very modest—not much more than what it takes to cover these increased costs. Meanwhile, some other suppliers take advantage of higher market prices, bloating their margins even when their costs have gone down. Here at the Source, we wish you the best luck and great fortune in the new year. New Arrivals I love writing our newsletter. It’s a great outlet for me to communicate to you—relatively unhindered—from what is basically isolation here in our homebase of the Portuguese countryside. There’s a lot arriving this month (including three new producers!) from many different countries, including France, Italy, Austria and Spain. I’ll try to keep it short, but if you’ve seen our newsletters before, you’ll have noticed this isn’t easy for me because there’s so much to share. France During my recent visit to California, I had the chance to show some older vintage wines from David Duband to our top buyers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego; they were on fire, and he now has a lot of new fans. In the end it became a feeding frenzy, and the allotments we offered sold out every day, sometimes forcing us to find different wines to show midway through our tasting appointments. David Duband Duband’s 2018 and 2019 wines are not what one would expect from these two vintages known for their greater ripeness levels. For Duband, both are fresh and, remarkably, under 13.4% alcohol across the entire range—not something that most domaines can boast, something David made sure to point out. Along with the range from Demougeot in 2018 and 2019, Duband may be one of the only other domaines we import where I find the vintages relatively equal in both quality, interest and overall personal stylistic preference. I am generally not one for wines that are too far from red tones if redness is the common characteristic of the grape variety, specific terroir, or traditional style—which isn’t to say I’m against purple or blacker wines, if that’s what the varieties/terroirs usually create without too many cellar techniques involved. Redness in red Burgundy to me usually suggests that there is less hand in the wine and a greater freshness at the fruit level, but this is only my perspective. Escaping darker tones was nearly impossible in these vintages due to the intensity of the sun (certainly not even close in overall redness of the 2017 vintage), but thankfully red fruit characteristics still dominate chez Duband, with the darker notes a nice contrast and a welcome contributor to each wine’s overall complexity. In the 2012 edition of the French publication, Le Guide des Meilleurs Vins de France, they went so far as to say that the turning point of Duband’s style closely reflects the great wines of Lalou Bize-Leroy, that his wines show themselves to be precise and of an astounding purity with each cru displaying the correct reading of its terroir. It’s big praise to compare him even slightly to Leroy, and don’t get too huffy yet you Burgundy elites; we should all understand this as a potential overstep only in that it includes almost mythical, untouchable, demigod-level wines from Domaine Leroy; Domaine and now Maison Leroy wines are mostly well out of my (and most people’s) budget, but there was a time where they were accessible, even for a poor sommelier, so I’ve had my fair share. There have been few wines in my life that have marked me with such vivid emotions that still resonate with me today as some I’ve had from Leroy. The hillside of Duband's Hautes Côte de Nuits "Louis Auguste" Part of Le Guide’s commentary I find to be a cornerstone statement about Duband’s style. His range of wines as a body of work demonstrate with crystal clarity each wine’s terroir. Great things have happened at this domaine and they continue to do so. His wines remain one of the best bargains in the Côte de Nuits; seriously, how many domaine-bottled wines of this quality are selling at close to négociant prices? Duband is crushing it, and I was even more convinced as I showed his wares around CA, observing about fifteen or sixteen different wines across many different days, each with twelve hours of evolution after opening. They were all startling and had magical moments throughout the day. This year, there are fewer bottles than any allocation we’ve had since we started with David, so lap ‘em up. You’ll be happy you did. There’s a new video on our website where David takes us through the entire range of wines we import. Don’t miss it if you want to better know this thoughtful and playful man. Here’s the link: https://thesourceimports.com/videos/ Spain Rioja is one of the wine world’s most intimidating sleeping giants; even though the region is very present on a global scale, the overall quality of this region’s wines is underwhelming—either it’s made by people who neglect quality for higher-volume production, or craft far overplayed wines in pursuit of critical press. I’m relatively new to Spanish wines as an importer and was warned against trying to go hard on Rioja, and I’ve tasted so many astoundingly bad ones that it wasn’t easy to jump on the train. But there is something happening over there. Combine one of the world’s greatest wine regions with a new-generation of idealists who are breaking out of the American-oak, over-extracted wine style and walking into their craft with their eyes wide open to the world. A generational revolution is en route, we want to be a part of it, and we’re starting with one who many consider to be its quiet leader. When I began to sniff around Rioja, I started by seeking suggestions from our Galician winegrowers. They asked their Spanish distributors, who then asked their top sommeliers in Michelin-starred restaurants. One name consistently came up, either in first place on their list or in their top three or four: Artuke. A new winery built by the thrust of a family’s generations of grape growing in La Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja Alta (really the same general terroirs where they are located but politically divided), they first bottled their family’s estate wines in 1991. Today, Artuke is run under organic viticulture by Arturo de Miguel Blanco, a large, well-groomed Spaniard in his early forties who also somehow seems like he’s been around for two-hundred years; regardless of your comparative age, Arturo feels like your wise old Spanish uncle. His movements are methodical, like he’s measuring each step, and his words are spare, precise in meaning and intent. When we sit to taste his thought-provoking range he observes you in silence; his responses to questions are short so as not to cloud your observations with his own thoughts. Artuke's Paso las Mañas vineyard in the foreground There is almost no question that one of the greatest values in our entire Source portfolio is the new addition of their Rioja, simply labeled ARTUKE. The 2020 ARTUKE is a traditional Rioja made mostly from Tempranillo (more than 90%) that goes through carbonic fermentation with whole clusters followed by three to six months of aging in concrete, similar to Beaujolais. Carbonic fermentation was actually the way Rioja was made for centuries prior to the arrival of Bordeaux négociants in the mid-to-late-1800s who crossed into Spain in search of suitable wine to tide over their market until solutions for phylloxera were fully deployed. I honestly don’t know who was first to use carbonic methods (it surely dates back thousands of years, long before these two wine regions existed) but there is no doubt of the juicy link between this wine and Beaujolais. With the ex-cellar tariff list in hand, I did a doubletake on the price and sheepishly asked Arturo if it was a mistake, hoping he’d let it slide if it was. He assured me it was so and also that he believes the wine merits its extremely fair price because of its low production costs and intentionally higher yield. This wine from a serious estate sets the bar for a range’s entry-level that the rest of the world might want to notice. For those interested in more recent Rioja winemaking trends, the 2019 Pies Negros (which translates to black feet, in reference to the wine’s extractions done by foot and the resulting skin-stains) is the place to start. Still in an extraordinary price range for its quality, it will over-deliver on expectations. It comes from high-altitude vineyards tucked underneath the south face of the Sierra Cantabria Mountains in the La Rioja Alta village, Ábalos, which sits around 600m. Raised mostly in 500-liter old French oak barrels for a year, this Tempranillo wine carries a darker profile than ARTUKE and an expectedly deeper complexity. Similar in placement inside the range of a top Tuscan producer’s entry-level Chianti Classico, or Rosso di Montalcino—both categories of red wine that I believe are global wine industry standard-bearers on price, quality and top-level craftsmanship—Pies Negros is very serious, classically-styled Spanish wine at a not-so-serious price. Artuke’s single-site Riojas are fascinating. All share a mouth-staining, cold-iodine-mineral texture, with the familiar streak of Tempranillo acidity that starts at the front of the mouth and dives deep down into the back of the throat, leaving graphite mineral sensations on the front and middle palate, and palate aromas of the gorgeous violet and lavender-infused grapey flesh of young Tempranillo. At an altitude of 700 meters, just below the limestone cliffs of the Sierra Cantabria, Paso Las Mañas was recently replanted entirely to Tempranillo on its limestone and shallow, clay-rich, and rocky topsoil. Syrah-like spice spirals out from the glass with brown and dark earth, licorice, and anise. On the palate, residue of allspice, and a gritty but suave texture is balanced with salivating minerality, along with a sharp, wild blueberry finish. Here, there are more lines and less fat than Finca de los Locos, a Tempranillo made the same way— though from a very different terroir—except that it remains limestone and clay, with much heavier clay on a flat terrace with old vines, with a mix of 20% Graciano. Arturo’s father bought this parcel at a time when everyone wanted plots further down on the flat lands closer to the Ebro River that were easier to access by tractor and had deeper soils that produce a greater volume; we must remember that not too long ago Spain was ruled by a harsh dictator until 1975 (hard to believe it was so recent) and fine wine was not the goal for the poor—it was a time for survival. His father’s parcel was the opposite, hence the word locos in the name, which means crazy, in Spanish, and implies that it was the country home of the crazies. While Paso las Mañas has trumpet-like octaves, Finca de los Locos is a long, Tibetan horn heard in a mountainous landscape with a deep, low and expansive vibration. But as with any compelling wine experience, its best moments are revealed after it’s been open for a little while. With time, these two wines find their groove and a more distinctive personality, shedding their youthful power and expressing more delicate qualities. I’m not the decanting type, but these wines may perform at their best after doing so, if you don’t have time to wait. Their second day is just as strong as their best moments on day one, perhaps even better. They should both age well, but they’re delicious now, too. While I seem predestined to prefer the more minerally Paso las Mañas, Finca de los Locos has equaled it in its own way, and after three days of nursing the wines I can’t pick a favorite. They’re just different and they’re a great complement to each other. Artuke’s two flagship wines, El Escolladero and La Condenada, are so rare that we can’t get much of them, but we will see more in the years to come as we work our way further into better allocations at Artuke. Spain’s Navarra has long been in the shadow of La Rioja, its illustrious neighbor on its western border. Just as Artuke’s Arturo de Miguel seems to be making significant strides as he inspires his fellow winegrowers in Rioja with Tempranillo, Navarra’s newest talent, Pedro Leunda and Jon Aseginolaza, with their eponymous label, Aseginolaza & Leunda is focused on old-vine Garnacha, historically the region’s predominate red grape variety. Educated as environmentalists and formerly employed in that field, Pedro and Jon launched onto the scene with their 2018 vintage (their third harvest), its results so compelling it was immediately noticed in all corners of Spain, including in the wine press and almost all of the country’s Michelin-starred restaurants. We have three different vintages arriving, all of which experienced very different conditions: 2018 the coolest, 2019 warmer, and 2020 somewhere in between. The wines come from high-altitude sites, mostly old-to-ancient vines planted on variations of calcareous sandstone bedrock, sandstone and clay, all organically farmed and running wild with aromatic plants like thyme, rosemary, and lavender—all left to grow freely, even between vines. The thyme is particularly amazing stuff, so aromatic it’s like a hybrid with lavender—crazy! All their wines are in quite limited production, with merely 1000 bottles imported for the entire US, cut up between seven different bottlings, two of which have only 24-36 bottles. At first I thought it would be a little silly to import such minuscule quantities of a few of their specific wines, but the 2018 Camino de Santa Zita, a pure, old-vine Garnacha, and 2018 Camino de la Torraza, an equal blend of old-vine Garnacha and Cariñena, are rich in flavor of the Spanish countryside and express mesmerizing aromas; our buyers absolutely must get to know them, even if there is nothing really to sell, so as to witness the potential of this new beacon of Navarra’s future. Also in the red range are four others, each with their own specific characteristics. Kicking off the reds is the 2020 Kauten, made entirely of Garnacha. Aromatically the brightest and lightest in color, leaning more toward a crimson red, this is the most playful of their wines. Not to be taken too seriously while at the same time not letting its complexities go unnoticed, the vigor of its young vines bring on its upfront appeal while the 25% stem-inclusion was a solid stylistic choice to soften its wonderfully aromatic, taut red berry punch. If Kauten represents the spring and early summer berry fruits, 2020 Matsanko (75% Garnacha, 15% Tempranillo, and 10% Viura) shows early spring sugar plums (perhaps influenced by the little bit of Tempranillo) balanced with exotic green notes. It comes from old bush-trained vines, which is noticeable in the wine’s broad palate expanse. While plums are mostly harvested in the summer, the overall appeal of this wine is one for the autumn. Aseginolaza & Leunda's Santa Zita vineyard In the middle range, the 2019 Cuvée (88% Garnacha and 12% Tempranillo) is a lightly extracted ruby red, subtly woven with a lovely high-toned red fruit; it still remains more firmly planted in the savory realm than the fruity—perfect for food. Almost marked by its surroundings of wild aromatic herbs (known as garrigue, in French) and a delicate orange blossom note, the 2019 Cuvée las Santas (100% Garnacha) is composed of all the single-vineyard plots that in 2019 didn’t yield enough fruit to make into individual bottlings—including Santa Zita and Torraza. It’s only slightly stouter and spends a few more months in old oak barrels than does Cuvée. It’s a deeper scarlet, sanguine red, and carries a welcome gentle amargura to balance its glycerol mouthfeel of its old-vine fruit. If time isn’t available, a slow-pour decantation will surely speed up to full reveal. Aseginolaza & Leunda’s savory wines capture the essence of the Navarra and will always be best with food. Imagine these wines on a rustic Spanish wood table next to a vineyard eating jamon de bellota and chorizo with a wood fire readied for Galician beef chuleton (ribeye) or some black Iberian pig cuts with gorgeous marbling of fat, and dark red meat, like the cuts la presa, el secreto, and la pluma. The second day of tasting these particular 2020 bottlings proved even fresher and redder in fruit tone than day one, and the 2019s were even gentler on the palate—so promising! Italy The Ramoser family’s Südtirol wines will finally arrive toward the end of the month, but one never knows these days with all the extra delays. As mentioned on our website profile for their wines bottled as Fliederhof, I adore the duality of the local, indigenous grape varieties, Schiava and Lagrein, especially when they’re made as precisely as Fliederhof’s. We brought in two different vintages of their Schiava-based wine grown on volcanic porphyry and rocky alluvium to get as much into the market as possible. The 2019 and 2020 St. Magdalener Classico, composed of 97% of Schiava (with the remainder Lagrein) are wonderfully inviting examples of this grape grown under two opposing seasonal conditions. 2019 was warmer so naturally the wines are fuller, rounder, and more fruit forward for this already pale-colored, light and fragrant grape variety; there was also 15% whole bunches in the fermentation. 2020 was a cooler year with a lot of precipitation but a great finishing month around harvest time, leading to a wine with stronger palate textures and angles, and more taut red fruit notes. The wines are gorgeous and fun to have side-by-side to better illustrate the differences between the seasons. Santa Maddalena vineyards and the city of Bolzano—Gorgeous! The 2019 Lagrein is what one expects from this palate-staining wine, but with finer edges and a cleaner aroma than most Lagrein made in the area. To me, many of the Schiava and Lagrein from Südtirol often have reductive elements deep inside the wines, inhibiting their full openness. At Fliederhof, the young and talented Martin Ramoser is aware of these reductive tendencies and works early in the fermentation to ameliorate them, ensuring that his wines shine brightly, and they do! Unfortunately, the Ramosers only have a single hectare of land in the area, making their wines quite limited. Martin, with his alliance with nature through organic and biodynamic practices, has brought their multi-generational family a new level of winemaking. Industry peers have also taken notice by awarding his 2019 St. Magdalener with the best Schiava of the vintage. There are only 900 bottles between the three cuvées to spread across the US, but they are worth getting your hands on to remind you of the merit of Südtirol’s reds. There is another video I filmed this summer during my big trip with Martin Ramoser. Meet the man and learn more about his wines at https://thesourceimports.com/videos/ Mauro Spertino, the mastermind behind Cantina Luigi Spertino Mauro Spertino is our portfolio’s sorcerer, an alchemist of his trade, with a Guillermo del Toro-like imagination for his wines from Cantina Luigi Spertino. He again dazzles us with a lineup from his upper-tier division that will surely be of interest to all restaurants with tasting menus, as well as anyone interested in wines that have as much of an aperitif quality to them as they do for food matching. Those of you lucky enough to know his Grignolino d’Asti will be in for a surprise with his 2019 Grignolino d’Asti “Margherita Barbero” raised in amphora and grown on a nearby hillside with a greater quantity of clay mixed in with sand. (Historically, sandy soils are more common in the cultivation of this very light-colored, almost transparent variety.) When our sales team tasted the 2018 version the first time at the cellar in the beginning of 2020, they went bonkers; and rightly so! It’s not only fascinating, it’s otherworldly, and delicious! We also brought in the 2019 Barbera d’Asti “La Grisa”, the new release of this typically deep-colored wine crafted with intensely dense, savory material to offset the sting of this variety’s acidity. Mauro’s Barberas are purposefully augmented to stylistically echo the deeper red wines of Valpolicella (but only a quiet echo!) with a short dehydration of the grapes prior to fermentation. The results make up for the lack of tannic textures intrinsic to this variety, with palate-coating, rich, concentrated flavors of taut fresh red (despite the drying of the clusters) and dark fruits with savory, beguiling x-factors that don’t drift too far from the familiar. Spertino's vineyard for the Margherita Barbera Grignolino A true drifter into what used to be an abstraction in our business but is now the hottest wine trend, is Spertino’s 2017 Cortese “Vilet”, an orange wine raised in amphora. What a brilliant idea for this often somewhat uninspiring but very serviceable grape. Under Mauro’s hand, it takes on greater relevance and is a wonder to explore. As expected, tea notes lead the way, but with tremendous delineation between specific, refined aromatic notes, rather than the bludgeon of blunted herbal flavors that many orange wines offer. From what I’ve experienced (and I can’t say it’s been a lot over the years beyond producers historically famous for orange wines), it stands as perhaps the greatest example of orange wine I can remember. Lastly comes a new wine, the 2018 Metodo Classico Pinot Noir. Mauro’s first dive into bubbles is a great success and I, for one, fell for it straight away, and to my surprise he was intrigued that I was so taken by it. Imagine a nose gently filled with the first-of-the-season tiny wild strawberries and wind-blown scents of almond blossoms; a palate that is not commanding like a young Champagne, but rather inviting. The mousse is fine and the bubbles attack with gentle and invigorating cuts to the tongue. For aroma lovers like me, this is a must. Austria What a lineup we have coming from Austria! It’s a shame that dry Riesling isn’t as popular as it should be. Ask any fairly sane wine professional and it’s sure to make their top three white grapes. Let’s start with perhaps the most startling development of one of our historic producers. Weingut Weszeli makes their top Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners with 30-month aging in large, acacia foudres. Who does that? Very few indeed, but more should! That alone makes their wines quite different from other Riesling producers around the world. While they’ve fully committed to certified organic farming since 2017 and biodynamics in 2019, the truth is that they farmed organically for many years before their certification, and this can be tasted in each wine’s kaleidoscope of pronounced nuances surrounded by subtler notes. All that time is spent in non-new oak (although there is an occasional wine marked by a touch of new because they buy a fresh foudre every other year or so) which leads to great durability that transforms their fresh fruit qualities into something more savory and multi-layered with a seemingly endless well of depth. I am genuinely impressed by their path and what they’ve already accomplished. Heiligenstein in the foreground and Seeberg in the background My usual takeaway with Weszeli is that their wines are alive and moving. A critique might also cite their copiousness, but I think that following a couple of kill-everything-in-the-vineyard-but-the-vines, and leave-only-the-rocks! generations may have made our expectations for the body of Riesling more spare, the way those same generations fashioned the body of Champagne. Things are changing, and today’s wines made in more of a nature-friendly way that were in the past leaner are beginning to express more expansive volume and bigger flavors on some fronts (in the case of more naturally-farmed Riesling and Champagne), while others take on more subtlety (like many red wines with a tannic history that are notably softer with less angularity and harshness as a result of more natural farming). While their top wines spend a long residency in large wood casks, the method appears to toss out ubiquitous (and elementary) characteristics in exchange for a terroir viewed through a different lens. Davis Weszeli and his right hand, Thomas Ganser, have invested a lot of time (and money, on Davis’ end) to keep these wines healthy and maturing into something more compelling than they would be with less time in the cellar. They maintain a distinctive house style, and that helps them stand out in a sea of formulaically made, predictable Austrian Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. Weszeli’s wines are usually a mouthful. In 2017 the stars aligned and Weszeli’s greatest vintage to date appeared. Endowed with a soft but full-flavored, underlying nectary quality they often match the expansive body and richness of Chardonnay but with an incomparable acidity. We start with the 2017 Riesling Seeberg. Exotic but trim, and the most discreet in this range of full-flavored Rieslings, it’s slightly herbal in a minty way, and showcases a textural balance between the slightly gritty and glycerol. Planted in the 1960s on mica schist bedrock, its refreshing acidity emits an enzymatic electrical vibration similar to a pineapple, or kiwi. Grown on more hard gneiss than the slightly softer mica schist, the 2017 Riesling Steinmassl is powerful and spicy with a salty nose of preserved lemon and lemon curd—two aromas I adore! More tense in white stone fruit and high-acid yellow fruit, it’s nuanced with a thin dusting of almond flour. Weszeli’s first Heiligenstein was their 2015, and it’s a doozy. However, the 2017 Riesling Heiligenstein is a true achievement. Like the other two Riesling crus observed over three days, it gained momentum the longer it was open with no sign of fatigue. This vineyard’s distance from the colder sections of Kamptal (in Seeberg’s direction) and further into the path of warmer Pannonian winds from the east embellish its richly expansive qualities. It’s the broadest wine in their Riesling range and perhaps the most crowd-pleasing. They own a mere sliver of the hillside, so quantities are limited. Michael Malat is one of Austria’s most promising young talents. And while 2019 is widely regarded as one of the great Austrian vintages of the 2010s, with 2013, 2015 and 2017 the leaders, it is yet another bigtime success for Michael. (2010 should’ve been one of the greatest too, if not the greatest in longevity for a variety predicated on its acidity and ability to balance that over time when in a seemingly overabundant quantity, but most producers deacidified… openly! For shame! But at least they were honest about it… However, I suppose it was partially a preemptive move by both Austrian and German growers in anticipation of a press that would’ve predictably commented about unbalanced acidity when tasting them young to keep their readership confident… But isn’t this what epic vintages are made of? Have we forgotten everything we’ve learned?! Goodness! Stay calm, reader…) One of my favorite things about Michael’s wines is their upfront appeal and nicely tucked in nuances. When I write or think about them I always resolve to drink even more Malat wine because of the joy they offer. On a rainy day in Portugal, they bring some much-needed sunshine. With their orange and yellow fruits—strangely a match for the yellow on their label and foil capsules—they are bottled pastoral Austrian sunshine and its verdant, rolling-hill countryside. Malat’s Riesling trilogy is indeed special. First is the 2019 Riesling Steinbühel, a name that dates all the way back to 1322 and means “stone hill.” Grown on a bedrock of granulite (a high-grade metamorphic rock similar to gneiss) with a loess-rich topsoil mixed with eroded bedrock, it’s perhaps the most elegant in Michael’s range of top-flight Rieslings. The 2019 Riesling Silberbichl follows its typical qualities with strength in mineral impressions and broader power than Steinbuhl. Known as Silberbichl since the fourteenth century, which means “silver hill,” it’s named after the shimmering silvery reflection of the mica schist bedrock and topsoil best observed with the sun’s rays lower on the horizon. The newest addition to the lineup is one of the rare wines made at Malat from someone else’s vineyard. The 2019 Riesling Pfaffenberg is a glorious new addition to the range and wonderfully demonstrates how structurally different and contrasting the mouthfeel of wines are from this side of Kremstal on the gneiss rock compared to those on bigger terraces with deeper topsoil on the south side of the Danube with dozens of vine rows on each terrace, rather than Pfaffenberg’s, which holds nearly a maximum of two or three per terrace because of the steepness of the hillside. A family friend across the river with a small parcel offered up her Riesling fruit to Michael for the first time prior to harvest. Of course, Michael had to accept on both the level of friendship and the curiosity to work with this celebrated vineyard on a massive hillside on a cliff that seems ready to fall right into the Danube below at any minute. The wine is simply spectacular and maintains Michael’s predilection for immediate pleasure with seriousness surely to be found, but further inside. Checkout our new video of Michael explaining his wines at https://thesourceimports.com/videos/ Kremstal's Pfaffenberg vineyard Veyder-Malberg, is, well, Veyder-Malberg… Glory is to be found around every corner of Peter’s wines and both the 2018s and 2019s have not disappointed. Our second batch of wines are a follow-up to the same ones that arrived in October. There may be some wine still unaccounted for, so give us a shout before it all ships out. New Section: Unposted, Instagram-Worthy Outsiders The Preface I fell out of love with Instagram. The process started a long time ago because I had always had a rocky relationship with it. Every time I posted I felt strange about the self-promotional aspect of it, which is clearly at odds with the fact that I’m running a business and it’s now a major player among commercial tools, but there you have it. When I was posting, though, I liked to showcase wines that truly moved me and that I took time to enjoy over a couple hours, with very few people. This section of our newsletter is my replacement for social media, where I have the room to share everything I want to share, in a medium that, to me, feels more organic to the process. None of the wines I will write about here were merely tasted and not fully enjoyed from start to finish. Tasting is tasting and is so clearly different from drinking, and in my experience, it’s almost impossible to have an emotionally revelatory tasting with just a couple ounces. The evolution of a wine’s layers takes time, and those layers are gradually released at different stages after opening. For me, tasting surely has value, but it still represents little more than a two-dimensional take on something with at least three dimensions—with a fourth that may just be my imagination… I often wonder how many talented and experienced wine professionals actually take the time to sit down, relax and slowly drink the greatest wines on earth over hours instead of quickly sport-tasting them in the company of numerous people with an embarrassing, overindulgent amount of wine on the table that mostly goes to waste. Two great bottles, two or three people, over two or three hours? Done too infrequently, I believe. (And the fact that working sommeliers only have a single night or two away from the restaurant each week is not lost on me; it’s the nature of their trade that they see wine in a different way and are exposed to so many more than I am each year. Time to sit down is sadly very limited for them and I wish it could be different for this demographic of true wine lovers…) However, maybe the absolutely ridiculous prices of rare and special wine can be somewhat attributed to the wastefulness of sport and comparative tastings instead of more meaningful drinking—I wonder what my psychologist would say if I used that one in a session to better describe my habit… If we weren’t such a wasteful wine community, we could all afford to drink better, no? Great wine was never meant to mostly be tasted and analyzed. It was always meant to be drunk! I drink wine every day. Probably shouldn’t, but I do. The problem with wine is that too much of this good thing is not so good for the body and mind. If wine didn’t have alcohol in it, I’m so obsessed and intrigued by it I guarantee you that I would drink it during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and surely snack on it between meals while working, or even while at the gym—why not? Hopefully it won’t come as a surprise that I drink a lot of wines from outside our portfolio as well as our own. Of course, I’m infatuated with the wines from the producers we represent, but we have a minuscule portion of the world’s great wines—maybe less than one-thousandth of a percent of all the great labels out there. I can’t represent the life’s work of all my heroes in wine, but I can still admire them and their creations; and I do. What follows are a few wines I drank prior to the end of last year that simply blew me away or became a gateway that opened my eyes to personally discover another vein of vinous gold. I will keep to just a few truly noteworthy wines each month that imposed an emotional and moving experience that reinvigorated my spirit—this is my true measure of the greatness of a wine. The Wines Our company has been out of the Kabinett Riesling game for a couple of years now with the amicable parting with importer Dee Vine Wine, but that hasn’t stopped me (and our Riesling-crazy staff) from drinking them! I love Kabinetts and the three 2019s from Maximin Grünhauser are simply stunning. I visited the estate four years ago and was able to walk the vineyards with Carl-Ferdinand von Schubert, an extremely lovely man, and the sixth-generation owner of these historical vineyards on their incredibly steep blue slate hill cultivated since Roman times. All the Kabs are wonderful, with Abstberg almost impossible to beat on all-around quality, but it was the electric blue slate Bruderberg that literally sent shivers down my spine. It’s rare, and that’s unfortunate, but it’s not expensive if you can find it… At LA’s Terroni restaurant, before my return to Portugal, I had a bottle of 2006 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Vignolo from my cellar with friends, Peter, and Kevin O’Connor (an old friend and our new National Sales Manager). It was a bottle of near perfection and all of us were flabbergasted by how simply gorgeous and approachable it was straight out of the gate; in fact, we had to set it aside because we were finishing it off a little too quickly. Alfio Cavallotto and I have maintained a good friendship for quite a while, since we worked together for a few years, and I’m proud of what he and his family achieve every year. Lastly, is a Spanish wine from Gredos, a territory just northwest of Madrid, 2017 Bernabeleva Garnacha de Viña Bonita. Pale in color with rusted-orange, light red trim, like a lightly extracted Barbaresco combined with the faint color of a 2001 Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny, it was one of the most compelling new wineries for me in 2021. So delicate are the aromas, filled with gorgeous, dainty red flowers and slightly oxidized skin of first-of-the-season strawberries. Its high-altitude granite terroir showed through with great purity. It’s the best experience I’ve had from Gredos. (Side note on Mugnier: a bottle of 2013 Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny I shared with my wife and our friend and co-worker, JD Plotnick, was perhaps the most memorable single bottle of wine for me in 2021.) Ok, one more! Like Bernabeleva, I’ve totally fallen for this Sicilian Nerello Mascalese producer. I’m sure I’m way behind the times on this in that every informed wine buyer probably knows them already, but wow… The 12.5% alcohol 2018 Eduardo Torres Acosta “Pirrera” Nerello Mascalese rocked me, along with many others I explored in his range at the same time. X-factor for days and a sublime, glycerol texture, with only ashy, aromatic hints of its volcanic terroir, its belt was loose enough to let the vineyard and wine’s entire ecosystem deliver its quirky intricacies while framed tightly enough to understand the quality of craftsmanship at this supernatural, natural-wine cantina. Bravo!
After more than six months, Andrea and I finally had an opportunity to get out of Portugal and into Spain. It’s been strange to be only twenty minutes away by car but unable to go for so long! Over the last three weeks we found our way through Galicia, Ribera del Duero, Rioja, Navarra, and finally, Txakoli—what a bunch of beautiful places! Of course we had to stop in San Sebastían for a weekend and got out just as the city was beginning to close its entry ports. We originally intended to go to France for two or three weeks in the middle of what was supposed to be a much longer trip to visit our friends and finally share some good news in person about the US market’s rebound, despite the unexpectedly long delays at the US ports. However, that good news would’ve been offset by another hard-hitting reality delivered by Jack Frost. Many crops were devastated throughout much of France and other parts of Europe, a couple of weeks ago, and the outlook for recovery this year is grim. Can we catch a break, please? It’s been pretty tough for everyone over the last eighteen months. Of course, we’re happy about the recent progress in the US, but over here in Europe the stress level continues to rise, despite the improvements happening abroad where it seems like things are in fact rebounding, but because of the excruciatingly slow vaccine rollout, the light at the end of Europe’s tunnel still seems quite distant and immobile. Spanish Trip It’s an exciting time to be in Iberia and I am personally humbled by the open welcome we’ve received by the Spanish and Portuguese wine communities. Most of the producers we’ve met have no historical laurels to rest on, something that many of us can relate to. As I’ve said in previous writings on our experiences on the Spanish wine camino, we here at The Source are grateful for the inroads carved by other importers who waved the Spanish flag long before we did, back when few were interested in more backwater regions, and we hope that our effort to spread the word will help their businesses as well. At the beginning of our trip we made stops to visit our guys in Galicia, and there’s so much to say about the Galicians and their inspiring wines. Things are constantly moving there, with a ceaseless rise of new, conscientious producers sprouting up nearly every month. The last leg of our trip was in Txakoli, yet another wine region that I know next to nothing about. I regularly step back to look at what is happening and come to the conclusion that this is such an exciting time for all of us in the wine world. There are so many lost, forgotten, and abused vineyard areas being nurtured back to health, one vine at a time, through a steady rebirth of old ideas and wisdom lost to the distant past, before global industrialization. There is an abundance of new tastes and smells, not just by way of tinkering in the cellar, but also terroirs that have been overlooked for generations in regions with less opportunity over the last century stifled by post-war economics, or the dictatorships that severely oppressed Portugal and Spain for decades after the last great war. Grapes and regions unknown to most of us from the States are suddenly coming into focus, and many local winegrowers even admit it’s hard to dig up historical information about their own region and its indigenous grapes. Blended and co-fermented white and red varieties are making a dent in the mono-varietal wine world, even for me! Many growers in Spain and Portugal regularly discuss the large, often multi-generation gap between them and the growers in the past and they continue to move forward by looking at their broken vinous history. The biggest whale in this area that seems on the path to breaching has to be Rioja. A Rioja Revolution?? Looks like it’s happening… Rioja was a central focus of our trip. We had a few visits set up there prior to going and we unexpectedly stumbled into a few more. One thing seems certain: Rioja is likely to no longer be a wine region that, beyond López de Heredia, only old-school wine people know anything about. Now there is a group of young, idealistic and revolutionary-minded growers there who, like in other uprisings in the wine world, are striving to do their best to bring their own historic wine region out of its dark age. The children of grape growers are ready for change and they’re taking it into their own hands by braving new enterprises, with the full support of their families and the strong work ethic inherent in grape farmers everywhere. All sparks start small, and while in other regions one could light a bonfire, a spark in Rioja might just detonate a bomb. So, what is my motivation for digging into Rioja and its confusing story, while very few, if anyone, in the restaurant market seems to care about putting anything on their list besides López de Heredia? It’s simple: Rioja is Spain’s most historic red wine region. It has been known for centuries to be the flag-bearer of Spanish wines, and eventually these things have a way of coming back around. We don’t do this kind of importing just for the money and a good time. The intense effort we put into our work gives us all a sense of purpose, working to help the little guy make his way into the fold, because we’re little guys too. And while López de Heredia is responsible for producing some of the world’s most compelling and historic wines—with well-aged bottles that only ten years ago sold for a fraction of what they go for today while still seeming underpriced—there is far more to this region than some of these bigger bodegas that make their living on ratings. While I am a virtual Rioja rookie (the last time I visited a vineyard here was on a bicycle trip in 2004), and new to much of the rest of Spain as well, I have clearly become accustomed to visiting Europe’s most talented and historic vineyards. Rioja is not even close to being a second-rate wine region, if one considers its historical reputation along with the obvious quality and diversity of its terroirs. It’s one of the top regions in all of Europe! Spain’s equivalent to France’s Burgundy and Bordeaux, Italy’s Piedmont and Tuscany, and Germany’s Mosel and Rheingau. It’s clear that Rioja is the real deal, a wine region with an unlimited potential to achieve the highest of the highs in wine quality. I’m writing this today after having lunch at Rekondo, a Basque institution of fabulous food and without a doubt one of the world’s greatest restaurant collections of old Spanish wines at unbelievably low prices, where we had a bottle of 1970 Viña Albina Gran Riserva. Recommended by the sommelier, it was a total winner. The wine list price was 99€, so only 2€ per year—what a deal! This winery is now known for inexpensive wines, and back then, as demonstrated by this bottle, they could produce enormously emotional wine that was also inexpensive at the time. It was gorgeous and memorable, with the umami aromatics of Spanish food culture and an enviable finesse that most Burgundies with this much age would have a hard time equaling let alone outshining them, on their best days. Rioja, promising? Sí, claro, tio! While visiting a vineyard in Rioja Alta, just north of the historic medieval hillside village, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, the young and pleasantly idealistic pair, José Gil and Victoria (Vicky) Fernandez, explained their terroirs and the overarching climatic conditions with the cold winds from the Sierra Cantabria Mountains on the north side of the appellation. I was caught off guard when these winegrowers (whom I started to think of as young Jedi) explained that a major influence from the regional characteristics they hope to capture in their wines, aside from the obvious talent of their sandy, calcareous soils and ancient vines, are the matices (nuances) of the aromatic herbs running wild on the mountainsides and just on the edge of many vineyards; herbs like lavender, thyme, rosemary, and a slew of other high-desert plants whose aromatic resins and oils seem to stick to grape skins in micro doses and possibly infuse the wines with subtle notes of their scents. These micro doses—which may be aroma and flavor enhancers in wines—are likely absent in monoculture vineyard environments, particularly those in vast, flat areas where mechanization is easiest and far away from forested or untamed land. This duo’s vineyards are all above 500m, high for the region, which test the limits to achieve full phenolic maturity in most years. There is less Grenache planted in these colder parts due to its significantly longer growing season than Tempranillo—the early, little one. This altitude and proximity to the Sierra Cantabria Mountains just to the north also puts them in the direct path of these aroma-filled winds that rip up and down the mountains with the rising and setting of the sun. Whether or not they come from the plants directly, these aromas are evident in their wines, and many other Rioja wines, too. Their fabulous wines are bottled under the label José Gil, and we have the good fortune to represent them in the US. On the subject of herbs, in our first in-person visit with the Jon and Pedro from their exciting new project in Navarra, Aseginolaza y Leunda (their last names, respectively), I was able to procure some wild thyme from a few of their vineyard areas—yes, I’m telling a story about thyme; it’s my favorite herb… The most aromatic of the plants seemed to be a cross between lemon-thyme and lavender and was undoubtedly the most intoxicatingly exotic and ridiculously aromatic fresh thyme I’ve ever put under my nose. Perhaps it was because they were flowering and the flowers took it to a completely different level. These particular plants were growing in an ancient vineyard named Otsaka, not too far from Pamplona, which also had rosemary and lavender that were left to grow freely everywhere, even right next to the ancient vines—real biodiversity! The other thyme, a wild one growing on the opposite side of Navarra in the west, more than an hour away by car, was marked by a deep, frosty green and somehow emitted—believe it or not—the umami of many Spanish foods; it was like the thyme absorbed the smell of Jamon Ibérico and grilled Galician beef without having met them yet! I snipped a full bag’s worth as the guys laughed at my enthusiasm for this ubiquitous herb (or weed, as they see it) and promptly dried and picked them when I got home last week. We visited a few other up-and-coming producers in Rioja working to redefine and restore the region to something similar to what it was like before phylloxera. It is possible that vines will grow in many parts of Rioja without American rootstocks, but sadly, it is now forbidden to plant without them. Maybe things will change. Today, it’s a region that suffers overwhelmingly industrial wine production, like many places on the Iberian Peninsula. A drive through much of Rioja reveals flat alluvial terraces littered with vines in some places with hardly any space left for a road to access the vineyards. But up on the hillsides there are greater separations between parcels due to the erratic erosional patterns of the sandy hills. Higher up, there are typically small plateau-like sections planted while the steeper sides of the hills surrounding them are uncultivated and wild; many are filled with aromatic brush, quite similar to what the French refer to as garrigue. Still, because of the enormity of Rioja, there are many secluded spots with a lot of natural biodiversity, as well as forests that were vineyards in the mid-1900s, including some that we visited with producer Javier Arizcuren, a very well-known Spanish architect with an obsession for wine and the recovery of nearly lost vineyards. He has a project where only his father helps in the vineyards, in the far eastern end of the region, Rioja Oriental, formerly known as Rioja Baja. On very high altitude sites, some above 800m, they grow a lot of Mazuelo (Carignan), Garnacha and some prephylloxera Garnacha vines. He has aerial photos of vineyards taken in the 1950s by the US Army that showed an entire ridge at very high altitudes (near 1000m) that were once cultivated and are now completely overtaken by thick forests. We will soon have the good fortune to also represent Javier. The rebellion seems to manifest itself in their working mostly among these higher-altitude zones that have more complex soil structures and an easier time to achieve the phenolic results they want without big alcohol levels and riper fruit qualities. Alcohol aside, perhaps the shared agenda of these rebels, who seem to have rightly renamed their movement from Rioja’n’Roll to the Rioja Revolution, is to make single-site wines. Arturo Miguel, from Artuke, a bodega that seems to be front and center for the Rioja Revolution and for whom everyone in Spain with knowledge of the uprising holds in the highest regard, explained that prior to the 1960s almost all of Rioja red wines were vinified by carbonic fermentation because efficient destemming machines weren’t around yet. This style of wine was simply a consequence of not having enough time, too small a labor force (partially due to the restriction of immigrants under the dictatorship of Franco) and too little money: the family picked it and pitched it into a vat and hardly touched the grapes until they were pressed. They couldn’t sell it for much with this method of winemaking, so they made some changes to the system—and not good ones. This kind of thinking that prioritized economics led to the removal of ancient vines and replacing them with more productive biotypes (not at all an unfamiliar story!), and of course, young vines themselves are far more productive than old ones. The growers didn’t have to care if the grapes were good, they just needed to reach high-alcohol levels to fetch the highest prices from the big producers in control of the grape market. This resulted in the loss of what would’ve surely been some of Europe’s most prized vineyards, and no doubt Spanish national treasures. There are still some ancient vines to be found from this era, but they are not so common. José, Victoria and another just-turned-forty revolutionary, Miguel Merino, ventured a guess that vines over a hundred years old probably make up less than one percent of the vineyard surface area of Rioja. What a terrible loss for this generation! I’ve seen some of these ancient vines in both Javier Arizcuren’s and José Gil’s vineyards. They are gorgeous, and most continue to look surprisingly healthy. Many other European wine regions have emerged from virtual obscurity over the last couple of decades, places like Alto Piemonte, Etna, Beaujolais and Jura, as well as many parts of France’s Loire Valley. Rioja’s terroir diversity, with its expansive coverage of over a hundred kilometers east to west, as well as a broad range in altitudes may have given it the ability to withstand climate change, possibly more than many other wine regions, since the vines have already adapted to such extreme conditions. It’s obvious that Rioja is a sleeping giant, and it appears to be en route to an awakening—perhaps not tomorrow, nor too far down the road, either. Maybe to some it seems like a long shot with the region’s current obsession with sun-soaked, American oak-scarred wines, but to state something that seems obvious, if you believe in terroir—as many of us wine junkies claim to—you cannot ignore the inevitable reemergence of this region in the global marketplace. Rioja is no less historically important in the wine world than other sleeping giants, such as Chianti Classico, which also suffers from confusion about its identity and what it’s supposed to taste like. If you couldn’t already tell, I think Rioja is an incredible place and it’s going to be fun to continue to learn more about this historic region. Discovery and learning are the best parts of our business because they yield constant humility along with a never-ending excitement for new things. And for those of you who are a bit in the weeds on this region, as I am now, we can slowly walk down this path together. I’ve got a lot of work to do before I really discuss this place with any great confidence. There is just too much information to reduce Rioja to a bite-size piece. But we plan to be a part of this rising tide by helping these new arrivals bring power back to the families who need to break loose of the grip of the big companies that cornered the market some decades ago. As is happening across the globe, it is plainly obvious inside many wine regions that the disparity between financial classes continues to widen. One of the answers for the wine business that winegrowers need to know is that there is a market out there waiting for them. They don’t need big and costly marketing teams, they just need to focus on quality and authenticity, and the market will reward them. New Producer: A German On The Horizon While we have very few German wines these days compared to when we used to work with the importer Dee Vine Wines, it’s never strayed far from our minds. Through some unlikely “sources” (my old German volleyball buddies who are nuts about Klaus Peter Keller’s wines) we were introduced to an exciting young producer, Katharina Wechsler, who has vineyards in the famous Kirchspiel and Morstein vineyards… She’s also a biodynamic practitioner… got your attention?? I thought so. Obviously the combination of this caliber of vineyards and the philosophy of biodynamics indicates that something special must be happening at Weingut Wechsler. Katharina is crafting exceptional dry Rieslings from these two famous GG sites—although she is not part of the VDP, so you won’t see any reference to “GG” on the bottle—along with some entry-level Rieslings from the same parcels that are total knockouts with very familiar profiles to those who know the wines of Keller, if only in that they are neighbors and their terroirs speak the same language. And then there is her less traditional line of wines, including an orange Scheurebe and other interesting goodies that contrast her classically styled dry Rieslings. I’m really excited to get these wines into the US to show what she is up to. Hopefully they will arrive around July or August. May New Arrivals The biodynamic Champagnes of Chevreaux-Bournazel “La Parcelle” will finally arrive in California. We received only a minuscule allocation in our first year of working together before the pandemic hit, but they didn’t make it past Rachel Kerswell, our company’s New York goalkeeper (who’s also an extremely talented striker!). Stéphanie and Julien have an interesting story and approach to their wines since both have seen more harvest time in more places throughout Champagne than probably any other vigneron working in the region over the last decade. Their first enterprise (which is still going today) is a company that organizes harvest help throughout all of Champagne’s regions. It’s given them a lot of perspective on their own biodynamic project out in the middle of nowhereville, in the Vallée de la Marne, which prompted an interview that we’ll post soon about how they view the wine world through their experiences and how they’ve incorporated the best of what practices they’ve seen throughout the various Champagne areas and its top producers, who are now their friends. They have around a single hectare of Pinot Meunier vines grown in a couple of different places on extremely steep, beautiful limestone and silex (chert) bedrock hillsides. The wines are stunning. It’s just too bad they don’t make very much. A good chunk of Viñateros Bravos is arriving soon from Chile and our staff is beyond excited about them, which indicates that some of our customers must be too. We were finally able to place a much larger order than anytime in the past, improving the prices for everyone. Leonardo Erazo, the owner and winemaker, has really cranked it up over recent years due to his newfound time and focus solely on his own project instead of those in Argentina and France. These wines are “natural” in the best way in that they are straightforward terroir wines from a sunny but windy and cold climate on either ancient granite bedrock or volcanic soils. Wines from Hubert Lamy, Simon Bize and Guiberteau will be here soon as well. Nuff said… I did an interview last month with Brendan Stater-West that will be posted online right about the time the wines arrive later this month. It’s a good time to get to know what Brendan is up to now that he has a few more vintages under his belt. He’s stayed the course from the beginning but now things have come into greater focus for him, as in, what he wants to offer in his range in comparison to the wines of his mentor, Romain Guiberteau. Stay tuned for the interview and get ready for the wines. Riecine is finally hitting the States. It’s been a long wait for these charming but serious wines grown in vineyards in the high altitude areas of Gaiole in Chianti’s Chianti Classico region. Their top 2016 bottlings, Riecine di Riecine and La Gioia, are arriving along with the 2018 Chianti Classico. I was curious how these wines would do when we first signed on with them, and I’m not surprised that they are one of the producers whose wines sell fastest upon arrival. As usual, Poderi Colla continues to crank out the goods. The 2017 Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose is landing and will be on the docket toward the end of the month. Like just about every vintage since 2002, 2017 is another Colla success story. The wines are notable for their upfront tannins due to their quicker ripening during the summer months, but given the deliciousness of the Colla’s 2011 Barolo from a similarly warm year, this should shape up quickly over the next months and drink quite well with twenty or thirty minutes open—just like every good Barolo! Justin Dutraive’s 2019s are finally coming. They’re the lightest vintage yet in color and extraction with some closer to resembling a richer rosé hue than a red wine. This is a welcome approach for Justin’s many Beaujolais Village appellation wines that seem to carry greater mineral and metal textural profiles than his dad’s. The wines were clearly less settled in the tank before bottling in the past, so when you get them, sit them upright for some days (if not at least a few weeks) before popping and go gentle on the pouring to keep those sediments in the bottom of the bottle instead of the glass. Staff write-ups Cume do Avia Colleita 7 Tinto Leigh Ready, The Source Santa Barbara One of the things I love about these up-and-coming, reviving regions, such as the Ribeiro and Trás-os-Montes, is the discovery of grapes that are new to me. When I’m out in the market showing the Colleita 7 Tinto from Cume do Avia, I explain that it’s a blend of Caiño Longo, Sousón and Brancellao, and this is our third Colleita imported, derived from the Portuguese word, colheita, meaning harvest, aka vintage, which can’t technically be referred to as such, but that’s another story. Unless someone is versed in Galician indigenous varieties or already familiar with Cume do Avia, I’m usually met with raised eyebrows and bulging eyes. “So, what’s it like?” they ask, to which I usually reply, “You just have to taste it.” Please do read The Story about Cume do Avia on our website; it tells a leap-of-faith tale of epic proportions. The wine though... Upon first swirl, this wine emits a sense of liveliness that instantly intrigues, and at around 12%, one can enjoy a couple of glasses sans fog. Crunchy red fruit gives way to tart cranberry compote with a vein of minerality searing through the mid palate to finish. I find myself going back sip after sip to further investigate. It’s deliciously light bodied yet persistent and finding what seems to be imprints from their granite, schist and slate slate soils is a dreamy addition. By trade, I know I’m not supposed to be partial to label design, but theirs is just darling. Serve slightly chilled if you prefer. Salud!