Search Results for: pradio
More Search Results:
In the countryside of Galicia and across the border, in Northern Portugal, the most important thing is family. The second most important is the wine and food they produce; followed closely by friendships. But Xavi Soeanes, the founder of Fazenda Agrícola Prádio, wants to make his friends part of his family, and his visitors his friends. Xavi is in love with his Galician countryside and he’s even more taken by its nearly forgotten past. He wants to breathe new life into the place, but in an ancient way. His greatest desire, his dream, is to share his cultural treasure with the world, through the lens of his wines. Fazenda: A Way of Life Xavi (with the “x” pronounced “sh”) grew up in A Peroxa (another “sh”), a very small village about a half-hour drive from Ourense, which is itself a small city but with a big-city feel. Bridge after bridge, traversing the Miño River from one side of the city to the other, it connects the city’s ancient historic, granite buildings and the modern residential high rises on both sides. The city center is dense and squeezed by the steep surrounding hills inside the most expansive pocket along the Miño after passing through Lugo, eighty kilometers north, as the crow flies. The closest city to the Ribeiro and Ribeira Sacra, it acts as the commercial hub for these special Galician wine regions. A Peroxa sits only about twenty kilometers (twelve and half miles) from Ourense, but once out of the city it’s a mix of winding roads that cut around and up over the hills that rise above the river Miño gorge below. The drive from A Peroxa down into O Pacio twists for another ten minutes as it cuts across the crest of the south-facing ridge above the Miño through thick, green forests, filled with shrubs, oaks, pines, and prádios—a common local tree also called Falso Plataneros (Acer Pseudoplatanus), or a False Maple; in the US, Sycamore Maple, and in the UK, simply a Sycamore. After a hard (often two-point) right turn, it’s straight down a meandering slope into the open air of the expansive gorge, losing hundreds of meters of altitude in a short distance that abruptly levels off like a landing plane straight into the gates of what, as of 2021, are old, rounded slab, granite-block ruins in process of full restoration by Xavi and his father, Manuel, all perched on a small plateau overlooking the river with a panorama of the south side of the gorge.
Prádio vineyard in Ribeira Sacra It seems that just about everyone I know who didn’t get Covid prior to the recent holiday season has done so since, but somehow my wife and I have successfully evaded it despite an extensive pre-holiday tour around California to say hello to as many of our friends and customers (many of whom were also very good friends, along with some I hope will be falling into that category). We again wish all of you the best of luck with your health from our homebase of Portugal. Keep drinking good wine! I think it helps… We have a lot to talk about this month, so let’s dive in! New Arrivals Spain Fazenda Prádio, Ribeira Sacra First on our list of arriving producers is the new darling of Wine Advocate critic Luis Gutierrez: Fazenda Prádio, from Ribera Sacra, run by former professional Spanish fútboler, Xabi Soeanes. We did a very quiet opening with his top red wine from 2018, Pacio, but with only 20 cases to spread around it was hard to justify a big promotion; we’ve been waiting for the 2019s to arrive, because we’re getting a lot more of them and we’re really excited about it! We’ll start with a snapshot of what’s done in the cellar because it’s the same for all the reds, and it’s very straightforward. Fermentations are natural and take place in granite lagars (rock vats) with varying capacities for about seven to ten days. Most of the barrels used for aging are 500L, old French oak and the élevage usually runs about eight months, simple production methods that showcase this architecturally terraced granite and schist terroir that overlooks the Río Miño. The first wine in the range is made of Mencía, the most famous grape in Ribeira Sacra. It’s this grape’s approachable nature that makes it broadly appealing and Prádio’s rendition has a great deal more layering and complexity than the typical Mencía due to its very shallow topsoil composed entirely of the granite and schist just centimeters below the surface. Prádio has just a few hectares and they’re shooting for the highest quality with this wine, which makes its modest price quite a deal. Right now they only have nine hundred vines of Merenzao, which produces a very sensual, aromatic wine with a fine mouthfeel of good natural acidity and little in the way of tannins. In France’s Jura, Merenzao is known as Trousseau. Elsewhere in Northwest Iberia it seems to have a hundred synonyms and turns up in many unexpected places. This wine is delicious and perhaps the most aromatic of the range. The only challenge is that my wife is so fond of it, which makes it hard to keep around the house when they produce so little of it. In the Jura, this grape is grown mostly on limestone terroirs which bring a broad palate feel and roundness compared to the finely etched lines of striking mineral textures imposed by these acidic soil terroirs. Once you taste it you’ll agree that the world would be a better and kinder place if everyone drank more Merenzao. Another fabulous grape that is seemingly only found in Northwest Iberia is one of my latest obsessions, Brancellao. Xabi has three thousand vines but this variety produces a much smaller yield than most, perhaps due to its open cluster shape and wider node spacing on the shoots. Its skin color is very pale and the wines take on very little color and tannin. Its winning attributes are its fresh acidity and beguiling-but-delicate aromas of fresh red fruits and soft spice notes. Xabi believes that this is one of the most important grapes for the area, and I totally agree. One of Galicia’s most untamed and perhaps most promising red varieties (in my opinion) is Caíño Longo. Prádio’s version of the variety combines all the elements of this truly great grape: good structure with its exuberant acidity and medium tannins, a wide range of aromatic and palate complexities, and that sort of inexplicable nobility and extra aromatic and palate dimensions shared by the greatest wine grapes of the world. The challenge for each grower is to break Caíño Longo’s acidity/phenolic ripeness code. The acidity can be monstrous if not picked perfectly, and if picked a little late, much of its high-toned red fruit and floral characteristics can quickly go to a more rustic side—a true asset when in balance with other fresher characteristics. Xabi believes that his Pacio Tinto, a calculated blend of all the red grapes, is the most complete wine in the range, and I might agree. While they have some single-varietal wines, his strong belief (shared by almost every winegrower in Ribeira Sacra) is that the sum of multiple parts make a better wine than single varietal bottlings. This is also a regional historical perspective, and it is due to the variability of the indigenous grapes in Galicia that seem to be exceedingly influenced by each season and furthermore by the great diversity of bedrock and soil types, aspects, altitudes, etc, of each individual vineyard. When one grape on the farm struggles, there are others that thrive. This is surely part of the reason the grapes of Galicia (and in much of Portugal) are so commonly blended. Indeed, they are fascinating on their own, but when blended together the dimensions are perhaps more subtle while the entire breadth of the wine is magnified. Pacio has it all and nails all the facets of palate and aroma. If you have each of the single-varietal wines before drinking this one, you will see how they harmonize together. New Arrivals France Arriving this month are wines from regions and producers that everybody wants. We can never seem to get enough to keep up with demand in these categories without momentary holes in continuity along the way. And while we usually have very solid allocations from each of these producers, don’t wait to get ahead of the game on these because they tend to disappear relatively quickly. Maxime Ponson, the mind behind Champagne Ponson Pascal Ponson, Champagne There was such a massive shortage of Champagne over the holidays! I was in California for a visit and you couldn’t even find the usually ubiquitous Veuve-Clicquot Yellow Label, even at Ralphs! (Not that any of us were looking to buy that…) But it wasn’t because Champagne’s stocks have run dry; it’s because those darn freight delays just won’t go away. But we cut a deal with the marvelous and young Maxime Ponson to bring in a massive shipment that was dispatched in August in hopes that it would make it to California for the holidays. Yes, you read that right: we ordered it in August, thinking that was enough time to receive it before Thanksgiving… It didn’t end up arriving, but it’s doing so now! The new arrival of Maxime Ponson’s Extra Brut “Premier Cru” Champagne (dosage 7g/L) comes from his family’s organically farmed vineyards in La Petite Montagne, a subregion of Champagne’s Montagne de Reims, located west of Reims, the region’s capital. La Petite Montagne is home to some regional luminaries and top talents, like Prévost, Brochet, Savart, and Egly-Ouriet. They tend to seven different communes and only on premier cru (1er Cru) sites where they have seventy parcels that make up 13.5 hectares, the oldest of which being seventy years old and the youngest just recently planted. The bedrock here is chalk which Maxime says is softer than the chalk found further south on the Côte des Blancs because it’s more of a tuffeau, an extremely porous, sand-rich, calcium carbonate rock, similar to what is found in Saumur and other wine regions of the middle Loire Valley. The wine is a blend of 70% Pinot Meunier and the rest equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Best to get on the train soon because the shipping delays continue… François Crochet in "Le Petit Chemarin" François Crochet, Sancerre Another wine that has been in very short supply due to freight challenges and is always in a high demand is Sancerre. François Crochet’s 2019 single cru whites are finally arriving, and despite the overall riper character of the vintage (a perfect year for those of you who like a little less green in your Sauvignon Blanc), we can always count on François to be the one who still finds the freshness with his very early picking—something he’s put into practice since he took over from his father. Crochet's "Les Exils" vineyard composed entirely of silex From most elegant to most powerful of Crochet’s range, we start with Le Petit Chemarin. This wine has quickly moved to the top of the range for me based solely on its bright mineral characteristics and elevated aromas—a profile that has yet to be exhausted within my general view of wine. It’s substantial but flies high and always maintains a dainty but ornate frame. Next is Le Chêne Marchands, the flagship of the winery and the grandest cru in Bué, Crochet’s hometown. My challenge with this wine is that it’s always at the top of the range and sometimes I want his other wines to finally pull ahead of it, the way it’s fun to sometimes see an underdog beat the champion. Le Chêne Marchands is perhaps the most well-rounded in the range and has big mineral characteristics, medium-to-full structure and an endless well of fine nuances and broad complexities. Le Grand Chemarin is often marked with more stone fruits along with sweeter citrus notes than the others in the range. It has a more expansive body and bigger shoulders than many of the rockier limestone sites, like Le Petit Chemarin and Le Chêne Marchands. It’s perhaps equally as full as the next wine, but maybe with more fruitiness. It might share the title of most powerful in the range limestone terroirs with Les Amoureuses, but in a denser and stonier way. Les Exils is the outsider in François’ range of Sancerre single-site wines. It’s grown on silex (flint, chert) on a more northerly facing slope, while the others are all on variations of limestone, with more sun exposure. Les Exils is perhaps the most minerally concentrated of all, with mineral impressions that are heavy and dominant in the overall profile; perhaps flintier than the others (a seemingly natural characteristic influenced by its soils) and with less fruit presence and a grittier mineral texture than what the limestone vineyards impart to their wines. Les Exils is always a favorite because it’s a bit of a marvel of minerality in itself, especially when tasted with the rest of François’ exciting range. Les Amoureuses is perhaps the most upfront and powerfully expressive wine in the range. It has the biggest shoulders of all, and this is most likely due to its numerous clay-rich topsoil and limestone bedrock parcels. Each of its dimensions are strong and seem to tuck any subtleties further into the wine. It’s a perfect Sancerre for four or more people who want to break the ice at lunch or dinner with a nice refreshing glass that never stutters after the cork is pulled. The Chablis premier cru vineyard, Fourchaume Christophe et Fils, Chablis Sebastien Christophe’s 2019 premier crus are finally docking. We thought we’d get them a lot faster after a small batch arrived some months ago, but we decided to hold them to wait for the rest in order to make a proper offer. Sebastien’s Fourchaume vines planted by his uncle in 1981 are located in Côte de Fontenay, a lieu-dit situated on a perfect south face toward the bottom of the hill and next to the property’s dirt road at about 120-130 meters in altitude. This is by far the most muscular premier cru in the range, with an abundance of classic and complex Chablis characteristics. Montée de Tonnerre is directly ahead with Mont de Milieu on the next hill over Located south of the grand crus and the noblest of premier crus, Montée de Tonnerre, is Mont de Milieu, one of the most versatile premier crus in Chablis. Although it’s not much talked about, on that side of the river the slopes clearly have a tremendous amount of the Portlandian limestone that have made their way down the hills and are set in place by the sticky marne (calcium-rich clay) on Kimmeridgian marl bedrock. These soil elements and the south-to-southwest aspects on this side of the Serein River often have greater palate weight and roundness, and fewer intense mineral components than many of those across the river on the left bank, depending on each vineyard. Mont de Milieu has a great range of characteristics that put it in the stylistic center between the right and left bank. Finesse is its main game, but it has plenty of thrust that drives home its complex range of subtleties. Montée de Tonnerre is the flagship wine of Sebastien’s range (the grand crus, Blanchots and Preuses, are on their way soon as well), partly because it’s the most famous premier cru in Chablis, and for good reason. It demonstrates class and balance in every dimension from the acidity, fruit, mineral, seriousness, and pleasure. Sebastien’s parcel is located in the lieu-dit Côte de Bréchains, within the Fyé Valley. Its western aspect and deep marne mixed with Portlandian scree and Kimmeridgian marlstones contribute to its broad range of complexity and appeal. It shares nearly the same south-southwest aspect as most of the grand crus and largely the same soil structure as Les Clos; however, it’s topsoil is not as deep above the bedrock as in Les Clos, though it’s still deeper in most parts than the closest premier cru, Mont de Milieu. (Keep in mind we’re speaking in terms of mere centimeters in difference vis-a-vis topsoil depth.) While this could be mistaken for a photo of U2, it's Arnaud Lambert (left), Romain Guiberteau, Peter Veyder-Malberg (Austrian luminary with the glasses), and Brendan Stater-West (far right) Arnaud Lambert, Saumur Everybody wants Arnaud Lambert’s wines now, but there was a time not too long ago when no one had heard of him, when Brézé was just an obscure name on bottles produced by Clos Rougeard, which were readily available and collecting dust in many wine shops prior to around 2012. Arnaud and I talk a lot about wine and life. Normally I spend two to four days with him each year in Saumur—sometimes twice a year—and we meet up elsewhere as well. Arnaud is one of our company’s cornerstones. It could even be said that he is our company’s most O.G. producer. Our first contact was in 2010 when we first started The Source, soon after we tasted a few of his wines that he had shipped to our friend’s house in Provence. It was my first “sourcing” trip before I’d purchased a single bottle of wine to import, and I was there with the well-known, former sommelier Tony Cha. I went to France on that first trip with an empty portfolio and came home with thirteen, and Lambert was one of them. I would’ve never guessed that my interest in finding a “clean” Cabernet Franc to import from the Saumur area would lead me to the relatively unknown hill of Brézé and to what seems like the beginning of the redefinition of modern-day, dry Chenin Blanc. Clos Rougeard had their “Brézé” white but it was very rare (and hard as a nail in its youth…), and the rest of the hill had been almost lost to history. There is so much to tell about this chronology, but Arnaud’s entrance into our California market predated Guiberteau by almost two years. Somehow Arnaud and The Source have been on the same trajectory since our first meeting and we frequently talk about those times. My most vivid memory was of us standing in Clos de la Rue on a very cold day, when for the first time he told me the story of Brézé and the historical crus to which he’d been handed the keys. It was at that moment that I knew I did the right thing by leaving wine production (or at least delaying it for a couple of decades) to become a wine importer. I was so excited by the story that I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to fly home immediately and tell everyone about Brézé’s history, and I did. Of course, it took a few years before we jumped from Arnaud’s basic Saumur white and red into the single-cru wines, starting with the 2012 Clos David and 2012 Clos de la Rue. By the time those cru wines arrived, Guiberteau had already made his mark in the States, I believe his biggest initial splash was in California. And prior to Romain lighting our world on fire with his 2009 Clos des Carmes and 2010 Brézé, no one really gave Saumur white wines much attention; oh, how quickly things can change… On this container we will finally have our restock of Lambert’s Cremant Rosé and Cremant Blanc. Make sure to lock in what you need because while we have a good chunk to start, it gets dispersed very quickly. The same could be said for the arrival of his entry-level reds, 2020 Saumur-Brézé “Clos Mazurique” (no, Saumur-Brézé is not an official appellation, but it has a nice ring to it, no?) and the 2020 Saumur-Champigny “Les Terres Rouges”. On the Chenin Blanc front (always an exciting one!), we have some of our “exclusive” bottlings arriving. These are the result of many discussions I’ve had with Arnaud about exploring special plots inside his vineyards to see if there is a notable difference in quality. The deal was that we would taste the wines together each year and decide if they should be bottled or blended into other wines. In any case, I committed to the purchase of these fun and adventurous experiments and now we have four different small production bottlings: Montsoreau, Bonne Nouvelle, Brézé, and a Clos du Midi aged in old French oak casks and bottled in magnum. Two of those special bottlings have arrived. 2018 Saumur-Brézé “Bonne Nouvelle” and the 2020 Saumur-Brézé Clos du Midi “Special Bottling”, both of which only have two barrels in production—roughly 40 cases of each wine made in total. Our challenge with this bottling of Clos du Midi is that it’s normally bottled in magnums to differentiate it from the normal bottling, but this year he put it in 750mls and put the same label on it, which makes things a little complicated… It comes from further up on the hill inside the Clos du Midi where Arnaud says this section generates more power in its wines. The normal bottling is aged in stainless steel for eight months while this version is raised in neutral barrels for eight months and bottled and stored for six months before release; the difference is striking. The regular Clos du Midi is a fabulous wine with its straight lines, gorgeous mineral nose and easy accessibility, but this version of Clos du Midi has more thrust, slightly softer edges and a deeper core strength. Clos David dirt, a sandy mix of tuffeau limestone and tiny shell fragments 2019 Saumur-Brézé Clos David is arriving and that should prove to be another knockout for this vineyard. There is also a small reload of the fabulous 2016 Saumur-Brézé Clos de la Rue, which sold out pretty quickly once it was put on the market. Bruno Clair, Burgundy The 2017 Bruno Clair wines are finally arriving after their two-year delay. How fun it is to receive wines from this fabulous estate and this wonderfully fun vintage! It’s good timing for everyone who’s maintained their allocations over the years because the press finally pushed Clair into the upper tier in the recent 2017 vintage blind tasting. “Back to Burgfest: 2017 Reds – Blind” written by Vinous’ Neal Martin, posted on January 18th, and in it, Clair seems to have really stood out among many important producers (around 250 different wines tasted over five days), including the likes of Jean-Marie Fourrier and Armand Rousseau. A happy place: Estournelles St.-Jacques and Lavaux St.-Jacques (left of the long wall), Clos St.-Jacques in the center, and Les Cazetiers on the other side of Clos St.-Jacques. Clair’s Clos St.-Jacques received 97 points (and according to Martin, was the top between the five producers—for the second year in a row—who have parcels from this very special vineyard), Bonnes Mares 96 points, and Chambertin Clos-de-Bèze 98 points. Not a bad haul for a blind tasting! While blind tasting has its merits, for me it’s not an end-all be-all judgment. But what can be ascertained from this kind of tasting at this moment is that the wines are showing great now—not surprising for this vintage and not surprising for Clair either: we’ve been beating his drum for years. Most of it has already been allocated, but if you feel you missed the boat, please let us know. We’ll do our best to find some strays. Simon Bize Our minuscule quantity of 2018 Simon Bize wines is also arriving. These wines are in great shortage for us and will be allocated to those who have a history of following them. Bize did very well in 2018, a vintage that matches this winery’s historical style under the hand and mind of the late Patrick Bize, where structure leads in the wine’s youth and builds to greater complexity and a drinking window that will likely be a few years down the road when compared to their more red-fruited 2017s. I love this domaine and I love the wines every year for the spirit they contain. The versatility of the premier crus of Savigny-les-Beaune makes this appellation one of my favorites and I know no better producer than Simon Bize. Many of Bize's great premier crus are in this photo, including (from right to left, generally) Aux Vergelesses, Les Fournaux, Les Talmettes, Aux Grands Liards (not a 1er Cru), Aux Guettes, and Les Serpentières. Far in the background, on the top of the hill toward the left center, are the vineyards for Bize's Les Perrières Bourgogne wines.
Saint-Aubin vineyard facing Chassagne-Montrachet (maybe En Remilly?) Containers are finally landing As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, wines from Hubert Lamy, Simon Bize, Guiberteau, Brendan Stater-West, and Justin Dutraive are here. Due to the unpredictable delays at the port, Berthaut-Gerbet’s 2018s will unexpectedly arrive in June ahead of many others that were ordered a month earlier! The quality of Amelie Berthaut’s wines continue their ascent, and 2018 will be no exception. As usual, quantities are especially limited on all the wines except the first three Fixin in her range: the Fixin appellation wine, and the two lieux-dits, Les Clos and Les Crais. Also on the docket are a few Italian goodies. Poderi Colla’s 2017 Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose is still the Barolo to beat for classically-styled wines with higher tones and a trim but substantial palate feel and structure. While in very close proximity, there is often some separation between Barolo and Barbaresco in overall style and level of success in each vintage. For any of you who already experienced Colla’s 2017 Barbaresco and its beautiful Nebbiolo perfume and quick-to-evolve tannins that everyone is ready for with this vintage, the 2017 Barolo is right in the same line. It was a warmer year, especially toward the end, which these days just means delicious earlier on with producers like Colla, whose sharp winemaker, Pietro Colla, appropriately adapts the program by working around any specific “recipe winemaking” agendas when the grapes are received. It also helps that his father, Tino, carries the family’s three hundred years of passed-down knowledge about how to manage the vineyards to achieve great results no matter what Mother Nature throws at them. And once again, the critics acknowledged the consistency of the work these days at the cellar and have rewarded them with complimentary reviews that continue to demonstrate Colla’s knack for consistency and reliability. Riecine’s 2016 single site wines (Riecine di Riecine and La Gioia) are here too. It’s a vintage not to miss from the team at Riecine. Once Alessandro Campatelli was given the reins to do as he felt he needed, starting with the very clever move to bring back Carlo Ferrini, the enologist who put Riecine on the map in the 1970s and 80s. He also completely removed any new wood from the Riecine di Riecine wine and went all-in on concrete eggs for three years of cellar aging to preserve and also showcase all that beautiful fruit supported with nuances of savory characteristics. La Gioia is the bombastic wine in the range with unapologetic big red fruit and a sappy palate. The team has a lot of fun with their work and it shows in the wines. Another real highlight is Chevreux-Bournazel (La Parcelle) is also finally reaching the shores of California. We’ve decided that we will call this Champagne “La Parcelle” because the pronunciation of the last names of Julien and Stéphanie are pretty difficult for most Americans. Rachel Kerswell, our National Sales Manager and New York Lead Salesperson, has the most experience with La Parcelle, outside of the many bottles I’ve been able to drink over the last two years here in Europe. My first taste was while I lived in the Amalfi Coast, in 2019. I asked Stéphanie to send some samples over, and there are few wines in the history of our company that were such obvious no-brainers to add to our list. Rachel has written a teaser on the wines, the allotment of which is extremely limited: 48 to 120 bottles of each of the three wines imported for the US. Champagne La Parcelle by Rachel Kerswell “Biodynamic rules seem simple for us. Working without chemical products, without mineral fertilization, without products in the wine and with life, with our animals, with the wild plants of our land, with cosmological influences …” – Stéphanie ChevreuxAmong the multitude of producers who have been looking beyond Champagne’s initial grower-producer movement—a movement of growers that began to break free of the big houses and to produce their own wines, typically focused on single plots—are two young and enthusiastic winemakers, Stéphanie Chevreux and Julien Bournazel, of Champagne La Parcelle. Since their debut vintage in 2012, they have been laser-focused on a more homeopathic approach, not only in the vineyards, but in the cellar too. Upon the acquisition of their first vineyard, a 0.4 ha parcel on the Côteau du Barzy, Stéphanie and Julien immediately began the conversion to biodynamic practices, and to the naked eye it’s evident their land is happy and thriving. The cover crop is verdant with an array of wild thyme, carrots, tomatoes, fruit trees and all things life. The grapes are manually harvested during the cool, early morning hours, when it’s eleven to twelve degrees Celsius, before the short trip to their tiny cellar where they undergo a gentle press, followed by spontaneous fermentation in old tonneaux. Following the lunar calendar, battonage is performed regularly throughout the winter months to give the wines more “gras,” a welcome layer to balance the naturally high acidity. The wines are never racked (outside of the necessary moment just before bottling), filtered or fined, and SO2 levels are kept extraordinarily low (between 12-37 mg/L) and added just before bottling. 2017 La Parcelle, La Capella La Capella is a 0.38 hectare parcel on a very steep 45-degree slope planted predominantly to Pinot Meunier (90%). The vines are dense, at 5000-6000 per hectare, with small amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris interplanted throughout. Deep layers of clay cover chalky subsoils at the bottom portion of the slope, while silex (chert), marne and limestone dominate the upper slope, where you can find just 10cm of topsoil in some sections. The vineyard is situated in a small meander that gets some of the most intense and direct winds within the valley, likely contributing to the natural salinity, yellow citrus and wild herbs, supported by a substantially vivacious and linear palate. The dosage is 4g/L. 2017 La Parcelle, Connigis Connigis is Stéphanie and Julien’s second and, so far, latest acquisition. Luckily, it has never been touched by chemical treatments and has been thriving since they bought it in 2016. The subsoil of this southwest facing, 0.28-hectare parcel on a 30-degree slope consists of hard limestone, chalk and marne, and has deeper clay topsoil throughout compared to its counterpart, La Capella. It is protected by natural borders and therefore benefits from more temperate conditions, resulting in a wine that shows more opulence and roundness upfront. After about thirty minutes open, the palate begins to show a fine sea-spray salinity that balances out ripe orchard fruit aromas, keeping this wine straight and delicate. It is composed entirely of Pinot Meunier and finished without any dosage. 2018 La Parcelle, Côteaux Champenois We have anxiously anticipated this wine from Stéphanie & Julien since we began importing their wines two years ago. Their production hasn’t grown since they acquired their second parcel, so it’s been a give-and-take to bring it to life. The give is 850 bottles of 2018 Côteaux Champenois, while the take is from Cuvée Connigis, which will now be even less available than it has been previously. After the must from Cuvée Connigis is racked into bottle for the secondary fermentation, a portion is left in tonneaux for an extra ten months. This extra time in wood brings just enough finesse to balance the natural electrical charge of this purely Pinot Meunier Côteaux Champenois, while maintaining impeccable balance. Pre-phylloxera vines in the Carremolino vineyard of César Fernández July Arrivals We are expecting a slew of Spanish wines to make their way in. From Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra, Fazenda Prádio should be the first in line in July with a microquantity of his top red wine from 2018 called Pacio. Wines from Adega Saíñas, another Ribeira Sacra producer from one of the colder zones, will follow shortly after Prádio. We’ll have a very small reload on some wines from Manuel Moldes, which evaporated in the first rounds in the bag with our sales team in California and New York. César Fernandez will hit too. César is the guy I’ve talked about in the previous newsletters who spent the last five years working with Comando G, in Gredos. He’s definitely one to watch, but the quantities of his wines from Ribera del Duero are minuscule at twenty cases for the entire country. Fazenda Pradio vineyard in Chantada, a colder sub zone of Ribeira Sacra Arnaud Lambert’s wines will be resupplied in July. Arnaud is killing it with his entire range and it’s honestly hard to keep them in good supply. First in will be the new vintages of Saumur wines from Clos de Midi and Clos Mazurique, and the Saumur-Champigny Les Terres Rouges. He continues to set the bar for price/quality/emotion with all three of these, and we have some of the cru wines arriving in the following months. In the past it was an all-we-could-buy supply, but he’s become more famous now (I guess we shouldn’t have done so much promoting!), so while we still get a great allocation because we were the first to bring his Brézé wines into the US, the world has caught on and the demand is very high. Plan for these when they arrive, or you might be waiting another year for the next vintage to hit. Anne Morey, of Domaine Pierre Morey Pierre Morey’s 2018s will also arrive, and the white Burgundies that I’ve had so far from this vintage have been a great surprise. We often think about the relationship between red and white in the same year, but in 2018 the whites fared very well and not too far off the mark from the previous year. I recently spoke with Paul Wasserman about it and he shared that many vignerons have vacillated between different theories about why the wines are so fresh compared to the reds, like the influence of the high dry extract and a year that somehow favored tartaric acid much more than the usual proportion of malic, which made for very little acidity loss during malolactic fermentation. Also, the higher yield slowed ripening enough and may have created a better balance of phenolic maturity with fresher acidity, and, finally, as I’ve been mentioning for a few years now, the vines may be somewhat adapting to climate change. Lifelong Road Warrior I hit the road again for a long trip through Spain, France, Italy, Austria, and Germany the day after my birthday on May 25th and will return home to Portugal just before the third week of July. I’m going solo since my wife decided she doesn’t like these lengthy marathons anymore, which means lots of windshield time with my own thoughts, on my own timeline, things I’m rarely afforded. I think better when I’m walking or driving and often wish I could be writing at the same time! I’m surprised that I can even put together coherent stories (which is still debatable, anyway) having to sit still for hours at a time. I’ve always needed to keep moving, which made going to school six or seven hours a day and two hours of church every weekend hard for me. Which might be part of why I didn’t do any more of that stuff after I turned eighteen… As elementary school kids, my two older brothers and my sister, Victoria, the youngest (who’s worked with us at The Source since the beginning), and I would find ourselves in the back of mom’s early 80s maroon Chevy station wagon (a color choice of which I’ll never understand) driving from Troy, Montana, an extremely podunk, thousand-person mining town in the northwest of the state, down through South Dakota and on to Minneapolis where we’d sometimes stop to see our uncle, Tom. Our terminus was in Eagle Grove, Iowa, for weeks with our other, much older half-brothers, and the rest of mom’s side of the family. It was on one of these trips when we stopped once for the view at Mount Rushmore and the Badlands National Park that I discovered my interest in rocks. I always saved my money, which I mostly earned by sweeping the floor of my dad’s carpenter shop, for $0.10 an hour; I was clearly cheap labor, and seemingly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I spent every dime on little boxes with rocks glued to pieces of thick white paper, their names written below them, and every one of these were precious to me. They were my own personal little treasures that no one else seemed to care about. I especially loved fool’s gold, known in the science world as pyrite. It’s a beautiful mineral, worth nearly nothing, and more attractive to me than gold because I liked its angles and shine. Maybe I was a fool. Or maybe I just saw the value in things that others didn’t. We passed through the Dakotas and what at the time seemed to be a strange desert landscape to kids who grew up in thickly forested, mountainous Montana countryside with wildlife literally at the front door, and then on into the endless cornfields of Iowa and what the folk musician Greg Brown referred to as “butterfly hills” in his live version of Canned Goods, where the car would go weightless for a second like a boat hitting a big wave while we all screamed and laughed and sometimes got nauseous. They seemed to go on forever and we eventually calmed down as they lost their appeal. I once played that Greg Brown song for my mom and by the end of it she had tears streaming down her face; his stories about Iowa in the days after the last Great War really hit her hard. These eidetic on-the-road memories are also fleshed out by a playlist that included Neil Diamond, Pavarotti, Hooked on Classics Part 1 (and 2 and 3 and…), Julio Iglesias, and Willie Nelson, especially Willie’s song, On The Road Again. Also, too many Hall and Oates songs to recount amid a blur of DTV—Disney’s 80s cartoon version of MTV for kids. My mom was a true romantic, and I’ve come to understand that more as I’ve gotten older. The music on those trips is a unique mix for me, and when I spend time with my wife’s mother, Nancy, down in Santiago Chile, we sometimes get a little sauced together late at night and drift back with Spotify to those deeply nostalgic musical moments. Sometimes I have to fight hard to keep the alcohol-induced tears from welling up, and I think she does too. They were such innocent times when we were kids, when our parents were the age I am now, and I’m sure they’re part of the reason why I’m always ready for the next trip. I like to relive those moments in the back of that ugly station wagon with the backseat always down so we could fall asleep whenever we got tired. We had to play games all day to keep busy so mom could stay focused on these long drives of death. At nighttime on the road, out in the pitch-black countryside with only the car’s headlights and the stars above to light the sky, we would rub our heads against pillows to create static electricity to watch the sparks fly in the dark. My brothers are pretty far along in balding, and I’m not terribly far behind them. Maybe we unknowingly created electrolysis with those pillows… I don’t know how mom did it, but she’d sometimes drive 1,400 miles during endless summer days with these four unruly kids in the back, only stopping so we could go to the bathroom; other than Rushmore, there was hardly a stop along the route. Sometimes mom wouldn’t even make pit stops, she’d just pass back a cup for us to go in… Hungry? Drink a glass of water… She was pretty hardcore on trips, and some who’ve travelled with me on the wine route have accused me of being somewhere close to that—except that I have a lot more fun along the way and don’t hand over cups instead of a proper bathroom break. Sometime before mom passed away in 2017, while Andrea and I were on our honeymoon in Spain (there’s no good time for your mother to die), she made her final, long journey from California to Iowa in the middle of a winter storm, at age 78, alone. Afterward, she casually told us how she had been blown off the highway by a semi and into a ditch during a blizzard. It was freezing and a complete whiteout. She couldn’t see anything. Thankfully she was close to Iowa, so my oldest brother, Steve, went to get her out. Mom always excelled against unfavorable odds; I suppose having six kids in the world can be useful sometimes. Victoria was furious with her and made her promise not to do any more long trips alone. I don’t think she agreed to it, but it very soon lost its relevance, anyway. About the time this newsletter is published I will have just arrived in Barbaresco to stay at Dave Fletcher’s rail station turned winery. I will have already passed from Portugal across Spain’s Ribera del Duero and Rioja, up into western France’s Madiran for a visit with a very interesting producer (more on that later if everything works out!), across to the Langedoc to visit Julien and Delphine from Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette (always a mouthful to say that name), and a long overdue visit to my friends, Pierre and Sonya, and their massive Provençal country home outside of Avignon, known to the locals as Mas la Fabrique. Surely, I will have eaten loads of white asparagus during my two-day respite there before heading north to say hello to the Roussets, in Crozes-Hermitage. After La Fabrique and Rousset, I’ll have cut across the Alps, through the Mont Blanc tunnel, popping out into Italy’s Valle d’Aosta and over to Northern Piedmont to visit with our group of four producers there: Monti Perini, Zambolin, Ioppa, and the new one, Davide Carlone. My old friends Daryl and John, Willie, Luciano, and Greg will surely have made many appearances through my Spotify feed before reaching Alba. (I usually save Julio and Neil for those nights with Andrea and my mother-in-law.) You’ll get the rest of the trip’s scoop over the next two months when it starts to get even more interesting as I make my way through Lombardian foothills, Alto Adige, Austria, Germany and back through Champagne, Chablis, Cote d’Or, and finally Beaujolais to conclude my French leg. In the meantime, I’ll post a few things on our Source Instagram @thesourceimports, as well as my own, @mindfullofwine, about things I’m learning along my trip. Until then, drink well! You never know what your last glass will be until after you’ve had it. Better make them all good ones.■
The mostly abandoned historic center of Masserano in Alto Piemonte New Terroir Maps One of the obvious requirements of being a wine importer is that you really need to know as much as possible about the wines you import, the regions they come from, and who’s who in the region—especially if your principal customers are the top culinary restaurants and fine wine retail shops in the US. I knew next to nothing about Iberian wine five years ago, but I’ve been determined to learn as much as I can and have benefited greatly from the experience of people in the industry who paved the way in this landscape long before me. My preoccupation with preparation has pushed me deep into the two Iberian countries where we are now focusing much of our attention. Through the process of trying to catch up on these regions I hadn’t really noticed over the last fifteen years, I began to create educational material for my coworkers at The Source to pass on to our buyers. Shortly after starting this compilation, I realized that there was a serious shortage of really useful information on these areas so that many of our customers could connect the dots as well. A basic list for the new additions to our producer roster, including general data, vinifications and terroir overview in bullet-point format extracted directly from the growers would’ve been easy, but such oversimplification would have left too much unsaid. As is common when seeking answers about wine (and life), each path led to endless opportunities for learning and lessons in humility. This insatiable curiosity led me to embark on a year-and-a-half long terroir map project with the young University of Vigo MSc Geologist and PhD student, Ivan Rodriguez, and my wife, Andrea Arredondo, a Chilean whose career focus has been on graphics and web design. The first series includes seven maps with details on climate, grape varieties, topography and geology. On the list so far are Portugal’s Douro, Vinho Verde and Trás-os-Montes regions, as well as Spain’s Jamuz, Bierzo, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, Arribes, Monterrei and Rías Baixas. Our general focus will mostly be on regions that are currently less well-covered. I put out a teaser in our April newsletter for our Trás-os-Montes map, but the first official release will be the map of Ribeira Sacra, along with a relatively extensive essay on the region that I researched and wrote last year. The text is based more on my own findings than from other printed or web resources in the way of input from local vignerons and highly-involved and knowledgeable restaurant professionals. The most notable source from this last category aside from a group of vignerons, was Miguel Anxo Besada, a complete insider and the owner of two restaurants, A Curva and Casa Aurora, located in the coastal Galician towns of Portonovo and Sanxenxo. There is often not enough credit given to the influence skilled wine professionals have on winegrowers, how much they expand everyone’s exposure to and context with global wines, often playing a major role in the development of a winegrower’s palate. Miguel is a sort of guru in Galicia, a sounding board where local growers can bounce ideas to help them develop global perspectives. There are others with whom I’ve spent time with as well, such as Fernando and Adrián, from Bagos, in Pontevedra, who wield tremendous influence by way of their extensive global wine lists and their strong desire to share and spread the word on good work from any region. And I absolutely must include the globe-trotting duo from Bar Berberecho, José and Eva, who have a medium-sized but very well-curated list. I met Miguel on my second trip to Galicia and wanted to go back to soak up what he had to say about a number of the great wines from the top producers there. After he opened a full case of wine for us to taste, he refused to give me the bill for them or the dinner! That’s what it’s often like with the crew in Galicia. These maps and our work to support the winegrowers we import along with the rest of the entire region’s wine community are the fruits of my travels here, and my hope is that I can be helpful in spreading the word and clarifying a few things about the region. New People At The Source The well-known former sommelier, winery and restaurant owner, Kevin O’Connor, has joined The Source. Kevin and I worked together at Spago Beverly Hills back in the early 2000s where he initially assisted the late Master Sommelier, Michael Bonaccorsi, and eventually took over the program for many years. During his time at Spago he started a winery with Matt Lickliter called LIOCO, and after he moved on from there he returned to the restaurant arena for a while, but has now signed on with us as our National Sales Manager, among many other things that he is well equipped to do, what with his deep experience in the industry. We are lucky to have him on board. We have another fabulous new addition with Australian former sommelier and wine buyer, Tyler Kavanagh. Tyler worked for numerous spots in California, most recently at San Francisco’s extremely well-curated, Italo-centric program at the wine shop, Biondivino. I’ve known Tyler for nearly seven years as he moved through various spots in California from San Diego, Tahoe, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco. I’ve always been interested in working with him because of his extremely friendly demeanor and thoughtful approach to wine. He will be holding the post as our wholesale sales representative in San Diego and Orange County—lucky for us and for the buyers in those markets! New Arrivals France Pierre Morey’s 2018s will be available at the beginning of July. As mentioned in a previous newsletter, 2018 is a wonderful vintage for Chardonnay. The white Burgundies I’ve had so far from that year have been a great surprise. I recently had dinner in Staufen im Breisgau, Germany, with Alex Götze, from Wasenhaus, who used to be a cellar hand at Domaine Pierre Morey for quite a few years. We opened a bottle of 2014 Meursault Tessons and talked about Morey’s wines and how their typical path after opening starts with a concentrated wine that after an hour or more it opens remarkably and rewards the patient drinker. Layer after layer of finely-etched minerally nuances and palate textures begin to slowly overtake the more structured elements that are initially dominant. 2014 is obviously a very good white Burgundy vintage and this wine direct from the domaine didn’t disappoint. David Moreau continues his upward climb within his Santenay vineyards. Santenay is not an appellation one thinks of immediately when they think about Burgundy, but it says something that it used to be the home of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and there has to be a good historical reason for this. So maybe it’s time to check out a wine from one of the top producers in the appellation. David’s wines lead with aromatic earth notes and fruit as a secondary and tertiary element, which, for me, makes them the ideal type of Burgundy with food. My tasting with him in the cellar last week showed once again that he’s still on the rise. It’s been too long of a long dry spell with regard to our stock of wines from Thierry Richoux. If you ever came to my house in Santa Barbara before I moved to Europe, you’d know how regularly I drink his wines, because I truly love them. The 2015 Irancy Veaupessiot and the 2016 and 2017 Irancy appellation wines are about to arrive. The 2016 is deeper and perhaps more concentrated because of the extremely low yields, while the 2017 is perhaps brighter and more ethereal than any Irancy I’ve had from Richoux before, an influence no doubt from his two boys, Félix and Gavin. These young and very cool dudes are taking the domaine in a slightly different direction. Their approach is a lighter touch with the extraction, more stems and more medium-sized oak barrels (as opposed to mostly foudre) for the vineyard designated wines, lower SO2s and with a later first addition—all common in today’s global movement of many small, sulfur-conscious winegrowers. Nothing of this offering is to be missed, especially the 2015 Veaupessiot, perhaps the most compelling wine yet bottled at this extremely talented Burgundy domaine that has developed a strong cult-like following in recent decades, and a very long history with private customers from Paris who drop into his tiny village on weekends and scoop up as much of his product as they can. Anthony Thevenet is staying his course in producing a more substantial style of Beaujolais while maintaining high aromatic tones. It’s impossible for Anthony to make completely ethereal wines because much of his range is from one of the deepest stables of old vine vineyards in the region, which naturally means huge complexity potential but a touch more ripeness and concentration. I’m not sure of the average age of his family’s vines, but they are all very old—the eldest planted around the time of the American Civil War. We brought in the 2018 Morgon and Chenas appellation wines, and the 2019 Morgon Vieille Vignes from 85-155 year-old vines, and the 2019 Morgon Côte de Py “Cuvée Julia” from 90 year-old vines and named after his daughter. All are worthwhile considerations, but the latter two wines in particular shouldn’t be overlooked, especially for anyone interested in a little exercise in terroir soil and bedrock comparisons: both wines are made exactly the same way in the cellar with the Morgon V.V. grown purely on granite bedrock, gravel and sand, and the Morgon CdP on an extremely hard metamorphic bedrock and a thin layer of rocky topsoil. They’re both impressive, especially in 2019 with all their bright red tones. Some other goodies landing soon are Corsica’s Clos Fornelli and the Rhône Valley’s Domaine la Roubine. Clos Fornelli is one of our fastest-selling wines, so don’t wait on those. They offer stellar value out of Corsica and they’re such a pleasure to drink. We don’t talk too much about La Roubine because there are loyalists who typically snatch these wines up as soon as they arrive. Sophie and Eric from La Roubine make small amounts of Sablet, Seguret, Vacqueras, and Gigondas, and their wines have been notably absent over a couple of vintages because we’ve missed our opportunities to procure some. Their organically grown grapes, certified as such in 2000, are all whole-bunch fermented for at least a month in concrete and up to forty-five days with the top wines in the range. Tightly wound (a good thing for Southern Rhône wines) and without a hair out of place, they’re also chock-full of personality and emotion. Spain It’s great to be on the road again in the more familiar territories of Italy, Austria, Germany, and France. I’ve been so focused on and excited with what’s coming out of Iberia and what luck we’ve had curating a collection of producers there that I can’t seem to get enough of. My wife and I drink wine every day with dinner, but these days, when it comes to reds, we often opt for wines from our neighborhood of Galicia and Northern Portugal with low to moderate alcohol levels. Unlike with Iberian wine regions, there seems to be less territory to “discover” (or rediscover) from a terroir perspective in countries like France, where the new ground seems to mostly be in exploring different cellar techniques. In Iberia, it’s not really about cellar tinkering, despite some trending toward more elegant wines there (as is much of the world), it is often a full reboot of nearly forgotten terroirs or entirely overlooked regions with bigtime potential. Finding new things in Iberia gives me the same feeling of joy as when you I someone who has some ordinary job walks onstage on one of those TV talent shows and within seconds makes my jaw drop as a small tear wells in my eye because I’m just so damned happy to watch an unknown talent emerge onto the world stage right in front of my eyes. New wines from deeply complex, multi-faceted terroirs seem to pop up every other week in Iberia, often with the reworking of a patch of land abandoned by a family one or two generations ago. It’s exciting, and the infectious energy of the winegrowers has influenced me to sink a ton of my energy in their direction for many years now. I get an adrenaline rush from this place and it has increased my already uncontrollable enthusiasm for wine. On the docket is a small batch of Ribeira Sacra wines from Fazenda Prádio and Adega Saíñas, the long-awaited arrival of Cume do Avia’s 2019 Caíño Longo (along with more from them), Manuel Moldes’s Albariño “As Dunas,'' grown on pure, extremely fine-grained sandy schist soil, and César Fernandez’s “Carremolino," a red wine blend from Ribera del Duero from pre-phylloxera vines and others planted more than eighty years ago. There is so much to say about each of these wines and there will be a lot of information coming down the pipeline throughout the month. Italy In the first eight years of our company’s existence, we brokered a couple of Italian wine import portfolios in California and fell behind on that front as an importer. After parting ways with the last of the importers, importing Italian wines directly starting five years ago was slow going because importer competition in Italy had already reached a fevered pace, what with the exploding popularity of the backcountry, indigenous wines that appeared center stage on progressive wine lists about a decade ago. Social media’s influence has been a huge part of this because it opens opportunities to completely unknown growers who sometimes become world famous in a very short time. The good news is that the people we’ve found with the help of our many sources (the true origin of our company’s name) have yielded some fabulous opportunities. We start this month with Basilicata’s Madonna delle Grazie and one of their top Aglianico del Vulture wines, Bauccio. Every call with the family winemaker Paolo Latorraca (and there are many) ends up in a conversation about Bauccio; they’re obsessed with it and I understand why. It’s one of two wines they produce only in the best years when there’s an even longer growing season in what is already one of the world’s latest regions to harvest grapes for still wines. It comes from their finest, old-vine parcels and it’s a steal for the quality and price. It’s very serious vin de garde and drinks amazingly well now too. The new release is the 2015, a spectacular vintage with perfect maturity, balanced structure, full volcanic dirt textures on the palate, and gobs of flavor—well-measured gobs, but gobs nonetheless. The soil here is black volcanic clay mixed with blond, soft, sandy volcanic tuff rock uplifted from the bedrock below, and the genetic material from ancient Aglianico biotypes originating from the region tie it all together. Their entry-level Aglianicos, the Messer Oto and Liscone, are getting restocked as well. These two are in constant demand and represent as good as we have for serious wine, at an approachable price for the everyday-wine budget. A couple of years ago in Andrea Picchioni’s tasting room, I saw a label that immediately grabbed my attention, a one-off for a special cuvée from years ago. I asked if he would consider putting the same label on the wine he calls Cerasa, a delicious Buttafuoco dell'Oltrepò Pavese with more solemn graphics that contrasted the pure joy and generous flavor inside the bottle. Without more than a second of thought, he agreed to the change and also changed the wine’s name to Solighino, a reference to the valley where his vineyards are located. Just look at that label now! It’s beautiful, and you will see when you taste it that it reflects the wine itself. We will also get a micro-quantity of his top wines that are soon to become culty collector wines, Rosso d’Asia and Bricco Riva Bianca. People who are crazy about Lino Maga should pay some attention to this guy. Italians in Italy, who know Andrea and his wines, say that he is Lino’s spiritual heir. His wines find the same level of x-factor as Lino’s, which come from vineyards quite literally just over the hill from Andrea’s, even though Andrea’s are not as rustic. In Alto Piemonte, Fabio Zambolin continues to capture pure beauty with his Nebbiolo vineyards planted on volcanic sea sand. His Costa della Sesia Nebbiolo (actually grown entirely within the Lessona appellation, but it can’t carry the appellation name due to the cantina’s location just a few meters outside of the appellation lines) is simply gorgeous and always a treat. Unexpectedly, Feldo, his blended wine composed of 50% Nebbiolo along with equal parts of Vespolina and Croatina grown just next to one of the vineyards he uses for the Nebbiolo wine, jumped a few full notches with the 2018 vintage. A month ago, when I tasted it in the cellar for the first time, I was almost speechless (yes, I know that’s hard to believe for anyone who knows me) because it may as well have been a completely different wine from any of the past vintages. It seemed like more of a special cuvée-type wine even though it’s still just a Feldo. Mauro, from Azienda Agricola Luigi Spertino I love what all of the growers in our portfolio have to offer. Some are less experienced but still make very honest and pure wines that clearly speak the dialect of their region, while others don’t fit into anyone’s box but there’s nothing off putting about the space they occupy. That’s Mauro Spertino. Mauro, who I fondly refer to as our “alchemist,” is simply one of the most creative minds in wine that I have come across. He makes a range of completely unique wines that all carry the hallmark of his gorgeous craftsmanship and completely authentic persona. Perhaps Mauro’s success and openness to try new things can be partially credited to the fact that he is in Asti rather than Barolo or Barbaresco. Asti is a region with nearly no expectations other than its low price ceiling. Spertino’s wines embrace the inherent qualities of their grapes and terroirs; he accentuates and even somehow cleverly embellishes their talents the way artists often do with the subject of their work, leaving their deficiencies so far from view that they seem to not even exist. Only two of the wines within his range are hitting our shores on this container: Grignolino d’Asti, a wine that redefines this category and has already become a cult favorite for those who’ve had it, and Barbera d’Asti La Grisa, an unusually elegant but concentrated Barbera that is much more substantial than expected. Led by the variety’s naturally high acidity and low tannins, Mauro finds a way to weave in an unexpectedly refined, chalky texture into La Grisa, with a sleek and refreshingly cool mouthfeel. Later this year, we will have his Cortese orange wine (a smart move on making that grape orange), zero dosage Blanc de Noir bubbles made entirely from Pinot Noir on calcareous sands (of which I bought a six pack to share with our winegrowers along the route I’m currently on in Europe), and his amphora-aged Grignolino, another redefining wine for this grape and totally different from the other one in his range. Sadly, a few days before my recent arrival to Mauro’s cantina, his father, Luigi, passed away. Luckily for many of us at The Source, we were making our way through Piemonte the week the pandemic took hold of Milano in late January/early February of 2020. After our visit with Mauro, we asked to meet Luigi; this, of course, was before we understood how serious the pandemic was and how vulnerable the elderly would be. He extended his large, soft hands for a shake—the hands of a retired winegrower—and he seemed as thrilled to meet us all as we did him. Knowing that it would be a rare and possibly unrepeatable opportunity, I snapped a few quick photos that may have been some of his last. I knew him for only a few minutes, but when you have the pleasure of knowing his son Mauro and his two grandkids, it’s easy to deduce that he was a great man. Luigi Spertino Travel Journal 2021 by Ted Vance At first, I thought it was a little crazy to drive alone from Portugal to as far as Burgenland, Austria, and back home after six weeks of winery visits, but after I got past the long haul through Spain and into France it seemed like maybe I should do it this way every year; I felt freer than I ever have on the wine trail. I packed my pillow (which I unfortunately left at a hotel in Germany three weeks in), a picnic basket full of useful silverware and kitchen knives (not one AirBnB will provide you with a decent knife, even if the kitchen is fabulous), a microplane (I’m obsessed with lemon zest these past few years), oats and nuts, Portuguese canned sardines, corn nuts, Snickers bars (most of which are melted now because it’s been hot!), a drying rack for my clothes, foam roller, yoga mat, a few small weights, a huge pile of Zyrtec pills (it’s high allergy season in June and I promised myself that I wouldn’t travel anymore in June because they are so intense at this time, but I threw that one out of the window because it’s been too long since I made my rounds). I have bags full of photography, video, drone, and sound equipment that seem far too heavy now to get past even the carry-on checkpoint and into the overhead compartments on a plane. Maybe I could get a camper and hit the road in comfort and take my time. It seems like an interesting way to live and I’m sure it would be a lot of fun to do it that way at least a couple of times. You know, #vanlife, but with wine as the guide and the destination. Three weeks after I started to consider this option, my wife called. I thought she had no idea what was going through my mind, but it turned out that I think she somehow suspected. She asked if it was my plan to keep doing it this way moving forward, and the tone of her interrogation changed in a way that I immediately decided it would be best to forget the idea. At least for now. I’ve played the band London Grammar more than any others since I’ve been on the road. Their music, led by the intimate and deeply emotional voice of Hannah Reid, keeps me in a pleasant dreamstate as I develop ideas while staring out the windshield on the long legs of the trip. I mentioned in last month’s newsletter that there were a number of songs my mom used to play when we were on the road when I was a kid, but I never expected that while having breakfast this morning at the Malat’s hotel in Austria’s Kremstal region that Michael’s mom, Wilma (who cooks the best omelets: soft, partially runny, perfect eggs with streaks of the dark orange yolks not completely blended with the whites, asparagus, tiny carrot cubes, and thin and tender cured skillet-fried pork) to put an old Neil Diamond album on their record player. He was one of my mom’s favorites and it occurred to me that Austrian and Iowan moms are not as different as I would have thought. As I fully indulged in their ridiculous breakfast spread (I mean, who serves sautéed chanterelle mushrooms in a buffet style breakfast? The Malats do, that’s who), I never realized until that moment how intense and almost urgent the tempo of a lot of Diamond’s songs feel. I suppose that kept my mom up on those non-stop overnight road trips from Montana to Iowa. On this trip, everything from everyone tastes better than I remember almost any of their wines tasting out of barrel and tank, and I have to remind myself that it’s not just because I was cooped up like everyone else for twelve of the last eighteen months; the world of wine is simply getting that much better from vintage to vintage. It could be that the wines are emerging out of their winter slumber, and like us, they are smiling and feeling more comfortable with the energy and warmth of spring and early summer. I usually tour in the fall, winter and early spring because the summer is often too difficult; it’s tourist season and hotels and restaurants are all booked or unreasonably priced for what you get. But as the world is still recovering, traffic is lighter than normal right now, and I’m taking advantage of that. Andrein, France, a week after restaurants reopened Staufen im Breisgau, 20 June. I’m just a short drive across the border from Alsace. It’s mid-June, but it’s so cool that it feels like the last week of May. Grape season started late this year after a cold and frosty spring brought disaster to the many crops in Europe. The vines were hit hard, but so were many other plants, such as the apricots in Southern France. Two days ago when I was at Weingut Wechsler, a new producer for us in Germany’s Rheinhessen, they said that over the last week the weather changed from cold to hot in a twenty-four hour period. The vine shoots have been growing more than three centimeters a day over the last week now, so fast that it’s like you can stand there and see it happening. The same thing seems to be going on everywhere. I started off this long trip by passing through Douro, in Portugal, and on into Tràs-os-Montes, the country’s most northeastern region, a place that gave me a lot to think about. I stared off into its colorful high-desert landscape covered in oak trees, bright yellow mustard-tipped shrubs that extend at least all the way to Austria, then drove through small canyons of multicolored slate walls carved through low hills in order to make some parts of the highway a straight shot. I usually travel with one or two or a few people (that sometimes rotate out to be replaced by others), but this time I’m alone on the road for more than five weeks, before my wife, Andrea, joins me in Provence on the first of July. At other times I often find myself corralling a group, organizing accommodations, talking to my companions the entire time in the car (don’t get me started on wine, obviously), and making sure they are getting the most out of the experience. I had almost forgotten how to be alone on the road. This year, Andrea was in Chile for a month in January and stayed an extra month because she had an opportunity to get vaccinated there. So I was alone in Portugal for two months during the pandemic, which turned out to be perfectly fine. In fact, I really enjoyed it. I did a lot of things I’ve been meaning to do for some time, a two-week juice fast, read a ton of books (absolutely devoured Matt Goulding’s works on travel and food), dug in on Spanish five days a week with my new teacher and now friend, Fabiola, did more research on wine and science, and wrote a lot. Trying to look on the bright side of things, I’d like to say I did the best I could to make it a personally enriching pandemic. Chablis, 22 June. I didn’t spend that much time in France visiting producers on my way to Italy. I stopped by to visit a guy in the southwest who has agreed to work with us, but after learning the lesson about counting unhatched chickens the hard way, I decided to keep the details of who he is to myself until we actually have his wine on the boat, because things sometimes take unexpected turns. La Fabrique, the French countryside home of my dear friends, Pierre and Sonya, was even more on point than ever. Sonya retired a couple of years ago and she’s gone mad in the kitchen, cooking feasts for a party of two during the pandemic, as shown on her social media posts. We had white asparagus for days, served with Pierre’s perfect mousseline, late spring and early summer delicate vegetables, heavily anchovy-dressed red leaf lettuce (my original favorite salad), cherries, (apricots were sorely missed after being almost completely lost to frost this year). They were massive and overindulgent lunches and dinners with Sonya’s unstoppably evil deserts. The problem? I couldn’t run outside to burn it off because the allergies this year are especially horrible because of the late cold and very wet spring, so I definitely gained some weight. The day before I left La Fabrique Sonya and I went to an uncultivated field to pick wild thyme that is now drying at her place, waiting for my return at the beginning of July. Wild thyme The next day I left to visit Stéphane Rousset and his wife, Isabelle. As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, they’re doing a new bottling, labeled Les Méjans, and it’s exciting wine. I also asked them to put the vineyard name on their Saint-Joseph, which they said they’ll do; having just Saint-Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage without much else on the label isn’t helpful considering the tremendous diversity of terroirs with very different soil types and exposures there, even if the reds are entirely made from Syrah, and the whites a blend of Marsanne and/or Roussanne. I passed through Savoie after my visit with the Roussets for a night with my friends, also in the wine distribution business in France, Nico Rebut and his wife, Laetitia. The next morning I passed through the Fréjus tunnel into Piemonte with no one waiting at the border to see the negative Covid test I was ready to proudly produce. I wasn’t surprised. It’s Italy… Andrea Monti Perini (left) and his enologist, Cristiano Garella, tasting the 2018 Bramaterra I visited our four producers in Alto Piemonte, and hung out with my friend of ten years (time is flying!), Cristiano Garella, a well-known enologist in the area. And I had nice meetings with Andrea Monti Perini, in Bramaterra, with his crazy-good Nebbiolo-based wines out of wood vats. As mentioned earlier in this newsletter, Fabio Zambolin knocked it out of the park with the 2018 vintage. The changes the guys over at Ioppa have made in recent years are finally coming to the market. Their 2016s are impressive, and the 2015s are right there with them, but they’ve recently really gotten a more measured hold on the tannins and texture of the Ghemme wines. The biggest surprise in my tasting at Ioppa was the 2016 Vespolina “Mauletta.” I’m almost sure that it’s the best example of a pure Vespolina wine I’ve had, except perhaps the Vespolinas from the newest addition in the portfolio, Davide Carlone. I made the visit to Davide with Cristiano and we tasted through a bunch of wines in vat from different Nebbiolo clones that are vinified separately, and what an enlightening experience that was. The differences between clones is much greater than I expected. We don’t talk about genetic material so much in old world wines as we do with the US and probably the rest of the “New World” wine regions, but we should. It greatly impacts the wine. Volcanic rocks from Davide Carlone's vineyards in Boca, Alto Piemonte, and the hands of Cristiano Garella. After Alto Piemonte, I dropped down to Langhe and crashed at Dave Fletcher’s train station turned home-and-cantina. I love this place. Dave said that before he started the process to buy it from the city, no one else was interested in it. His friends said he was crazy, but when word got out that he was serious, the interest increased, and Dave had to hustle to get his name on the title before he was wedged out. They live in a sort of dreamworld inside that old station; when I’m in it I imagine the antique setting and how so many people passed through it long ago; it’s beautiful, and almost joyfully haunted by their spirits. Dave and Eleanor (Elle), his wife, wisely kept most of the interior space the same, with the ticket counters and the coffee and wine bar. I took full advantage of the opportunity to cook so as to control my food intake, which completely backfired because I think I ate even more food there than I would’ve in restaurants along the way. We enjoyed lamb on the barby (said with Dave’s Australian accent), marinated with anchovy, garlic and some of the French thyme from our friend’s place in Provence, and I turned Elle on to high quality canned anchovies from Cantabria (which she never liked before) and salt-packed ones from Sicily on top of cold, salted butter and fresh bread with a paper thin slice of garlic, dried oregano, lemon zest and a little red pepper—a recipe I picked up from Aqua Pazza, a fabulous restaurant in the Amalfi Coast’s truest Italian fishing village (where residence actually live and work all year round), Cetara. It was exactly what I needed after a week straight of decadent eating on the road. Monti Perini's vineyard (surrounding the small white house at the bottom center) in the Brusnengo commune of Bramaterra, in Alto Piemonte, with the Alps in the background. I met the Collas for lunch at their house up in Rodello, a beautiful village that sits on a long, narrow ridge well above the cold and fog of Alba. On a clear day at their house, you can see the Alps perfectly to the west and north, the Ligurian range to the south and to the east and the northernmost expanse of the Apennine Mountains, which from there run all the way down to Sicily. Bruna, Tino Colla’s wife, makes fresh pasta in a room for doing just that, next to their small cellar, which is loaded with antique wines that Tino has stashed for more than fifty years. This treasure is hidden below the main floor of their four-story house that sits on the top of the hill, situated above all the other homes with just the nearby church blocking a small slice of the view. The cellar is filled with a lot of old wines from the Colla’s Prunotto days and from Cascina del Drago, an estate that covers the better part of a hill, just on the border of Barbaresco, where Beppe Colla used to make the wine and which the Collas ended up buying from the previous owners who insisted that they would only sell it to his family. While our team was on tour in Piemonte when the pandemic first hit Italy, Tino opened up a series of old, irreplaceable Prunotto wines (1980 Barolo Bussia, 1978 Barbaresco Montestefano, and 1968 Barbera) and a red from Cascina del Drago, a Dolcetto wine with fifteen percent Nebbiolo, stole the show. It was a 1970, and it virtually crushed the field of already fabulous old wines. Cascina del Drago is a story that needs to be told because it is an unusual historical wine made from exactly the same blend of grapes from that hill for generations (long before the IGT blended wines were a thing), but the best way to understand it is to taste old bottles. They seem to be indestructible, easily competing for the top position in any range of old Piemontese wines they come up against. Yes, they can be really that good. One of the unexpected highlights of my time with the Collas came in the form of a unforgettable vinegar for a simple, greenleaf salad Bruna made to accompany the zucchini flan, carne cruda di fassone buttuta al coltello (knife-cut beef tartar), salsiccia di Bra, a small raw beef sausage made only in Bra (it’s so wonderful, and also a leap of faith considering it’s raw sausage, but the butchers have done it cleanly with all of those I’ve had so far), and a Bruna-made fresh pasta, tajarin con sugo di carne e funghi, a very thin, flat pasta that takes literally one minute to cook and serve with a meat and mushroom tomato sauce that takes nearly a day of cooking to find the right consistency. This vinegar is the continuation of a vinegar mother started in 1930, a profound experience that they’ve been topping up with mostly Nebbiolo over the years. I asked for a bottle and Tino looked at me as though I asked to be written into the family will for an equal portion of the estate. Sometimes in life you simply need to ask for what you want and you will get it. It would have been an audacious ask if it were anyone but the Collas, but they are like family to me, and I think they often feel the same way. Beaune, 25 June After a weekend intended to be a respite from excesses of food and wine that turned into a full-blown cooking-and-drinking fest at Dave’s station, I reluctantly left their warm hospitality and headed toward Asti for a morning visit with a cantina whose wines I briefly sold about ten years ago in Los Angeles for one of the Italian wine importers I used to work with. La Casaccia is located in Cella Monte, a village in the Monferrato area of Asti, and is run by Elena, Giovanni and their kids, Margherita and Marcello. Upon my arrival I was greeted by Margherita, a woman in her early thirties who looks barely a shade over twenty, with a big and welcoming smile and an extremely comforting demeanor. She proposed a walk through the vineyards, then a tasting and lunch. Little did I know that many of their vineyards are surrounded by wild cherry trees that were ready for picking. In their vineyard that makes the Barbera, Bricco dei Boschi, Margherita pointed to a tree and said that they were probably too sour still. I picked a cherry anyway and gave it a try. It was one particular cherry tree intertwined with others near the top of the vineyard. The first cherry exploded with flavor and aromatic complexity, like a great Mosel Kabinett Riesling. I couldn’t stop eating them, nor could Margherita. Small, with delicate skins colored from light red to pink to orange and yellow all on the same cherry, I know that they were the most incredible cherries I’ve ever had. The acidity was through the roof, as was the sugar. The only other fruit comparison I can think of is a perfectly ripe and ready to pick white wine grape. It smelled and tasted like a mixture of rieslings from JJ Prum and Veyder-Malberg. Should I have a better cherry in my life, it would be an unexpected surprise. The epic cherries and Margherita's hands After our walk through the vineyard with conversations about their family and other non-wine things, like yoga, vegetarianism and the organic life (not just organic vineyards), she felt so familiar, like we’d been friends for years. The weather was overcast, slightly warm and lightly humid, just perfect for an outdoor tasting and lunch. After working through Giovanni’s range of authentic and emotion-filled reds (most notably the entry-level Grignolino, Freisa and Barbera wines) and a racy, undeniably delicious stainless-steel raised, vigorous limestone terroir monster of a Chardonnay grown on their pure chalk soil (think: a trim Saint-Aubin sans oak aging but dense in that limestone magic along with the exuberance imparted by a fanatical, fun and quirky winemaker), we sat for a lunch prepared by Elena. It started with an egg and vegetable tart, followed by fresh cheese-stuffed raviolis made by a well-known local pasta maker just a few villages away who used to own a restaurant known for excellent pasta. He has since closed it to focus only on pasta making—lucky for everyone in the region because these raviolis were special. Next stop, Spertino. I could contemplate and try to write about Mauro Spertino’s wines all day, but the only descriptions of what he renders with each wine that would truly do them justice would be in poetry, a skill that I haven’t even attempted to develop. Bottled under his late father’s name, Luigi Spertino, all are almost completely different from other wines around him—perhaps not only in Asti, but in all of Italy, or even the world. He lives in a middle of nowhere part of Piemonte, but in his lovingly rich family surroundings he finds what appears to be the same inspiration and genius-level creativity found in the countryside by many former city-dwelling Impressionists of the late 1800s; his ability to imagine and realize his dreams in liquid form is that rare. I imagine him lying awake at night staring into the dark thinking about how he should move a hair here and a hair there to next time outdo the marvel (at least for me) that he has just put the finishing touches on and bottled. In this July newsletter, I’ve written more about Mauro and the wines I tasted during my visit. It was truly inspiring, and if I should classify the wines we work with on artistic flair and originality, his are so far out of the box and perfectly tuned that I may have to consider him to be one of the most important in our portfolio. Next stop was with the Russo brothers in northwest Asti, Federico, and the twins, Marcello and Corrado. I always seem to be in a rush when I see these guys and I often feel like I’ve missed something they wanted to share with me, or show me. Maybe it’s just that they have so much to share. They are as generous in spirit vis-à-vis food and drink as anyone I know, and spending just an afternoon, evening and the following morning once a year never seems like enough. When I arrived to visit them it was already late. An early summer storm was imminent and I wanted to get some drone footage of their vineyards while there was a dash of sunlight and a pregame of drizzle in the air before the downpour. I didn’t want footage from up high because Crotin’s are not particularly exciting vineyards; I wanted to show how they are different from most of the region because their vineyards have mostly recovered from the abandonment that began after the last of the great wars. They are some of the closest Asti vineyards to Torino, so they are some of the last to be recovered. Their vineyards are surrounded by wild forests, open pastures, and diverse agricultural fields, mostly hazelnut and fruit trees, which all seems to be felt in their lively wines. What I thought would be some easy shots of flat vineyards ended up with me taking a twenty minute drive to look at a new Nebbiolo vineyard that sits around 480 meters (higher than Giacomo Conterno’s Cascina Francia vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba, for example), on white, calcareous sands with blue-grey marl. The vineyard is spectacular and not at all flat, and their desire is to produce a wine from it that should be drunk younger, a sort of equivalent in style to a Langhe Nebbiolo raised in steel. Regardless, I expect a very special wine from this vineyard, especially with the mind of one of the world’s most talented young Nebbiolo whisperers, enologist Cristiano Garella, as a strong influence. Exciting! Next Newsletter it’s a continuation of my loop around the Alps through Italy’s Lombardia and Sudtirol, then up into Austria and over to Germany en route back to Champagne and Burgundy. Ciao for now.
Ribeira Sacra Terroir Overview
An Incomplete Collection of Observations and Considerations. Round One. The Ribeira Sacra is complicated. There is so much more than what is readily apparent beyond the breathtaking imagery of vertigo-inducing vineyard terraces towering over the silvery, slow-moving rivers far below. Broken up into five general wine regions, it has a greater diversity of grapes, expositions, altitudes, slope angles, bedrock types and topsoil compositions than many other wine regions. This subject is expansive and thankfully, there is now increasingly more useful information about it, thanks to Spanish wine journalism that has begun to focus more heavily on Spain’s backcountry. Luis Gutiérrez, from the Wine Advocate, the team at spanishwinelover.com blog, and the website of importer, Jose Pastor Selections, are some of my go-to references written in English. One challenge of delving deep into this region comes from the fact that much of its history has been lost for generations to hard times and nearly complete abandonment. The bulk of the historical and cultural details are in Spanish, or even the far more challenging Galician—also called Galego, a regional dialect that combines elements of Spanish and Portuguese with its own individual twist. My goal here is to offer a better understanding of the Ribeira Sacra by highlighting some unique elements within each of the five subzones from a broad, terroir-oriented perspective. Climatic Considerations The Ribeira Sacra represents Galicia’s climatic middle ground, with a large variation throughout the appellation that ranges from one extreme side to the other. The climate dictates the “success” of grapes’ growth with regard to the degree of balanced phenolic ripeness they attain. It may seem unusual, but in Galicia there are many different grape types that find balanced phenolic ripeness in a great range of potential alcohol levels, some as low as 10.5%, and others well above 13%. This leads to a multitude of different expressions of wine here, as well as elsewhere in Galicia. Satellite 3-D imagery has been a game changer, but it may be easier to reference topographical maps rather than Google Earth when it comes to climate, since they better and more simply illustrate in the physicality of the landscape, and therefore the source of potential climate influencers. On the west and north end of the Ribeira Sacra the climatic influence is more impacted by Atlantic winds and precipitation due to the absence of any significant mountain range. Toward the west, between the Atlantic and the Ribeiro and Ribeira Sacra regions, some small mountains curb the influence of oceanic winds. Over where the Miño river valley flows south through the Chantada and Ribeiras do Miño subzones of the Ribeira Sacra all the way to the Atlantic, the northern Atlantic winds are freer to blow through the river valley and into the region. Then, toward the south and east the mountains rise to higher altitudes and maintain a much stronger continental influence. None of the mountains in Galicia would be considered big, like the Rockies, Alps or Himalayas—although the Galician range is believed to have been comparable, hundreds of millions of years ago. Now they’re short and rounded, topping out at 2,124 meters (6,969 feet) at Peña Trevinca, perhaps just a dozen or so kilometers to the east of Quiroga-Bibei, the easternmost subzone of the Ribeira Sacra. It snows in the higher elevations in winter, a possibility I hadn’t considered until I found myself driving through an unexpected blizzard from Bierzo to the Amandi on my way to an appointment. It can be downright cold here in the wintertime, and blazing hot in the summer. And the differences between the seasons in the Ribeira Sacra have become particularly extreme of late, with some years overburdened by drought, while also suffering unmanageable mildew pressure, and even torrential hailstorms at the worst possible times, often just before harvest. A Land of Many Rivers The influence of the main rivers in the Ribeira Sacra is not quite the same as it used to be. Since the introduction of hydroelectric dams as early as the 1940s, when Central Hidroeléctrica dos Peares on the Miño River broke ground in ‘47, and with dam construction continuing today along some watercourses, each river’s influence on vineyard microclimates has changed. In the past, rivers brought the advantage of faster moving airflow, especially during spring runoff that likely helped curb frost issues around bud break by basically pulling the cool air further downstream before it could settle in the vineyards. These dams have also brought notable change to the landscape where the deepest sections of the river now run through areas once covered with vineyards, farmland and housing. This modification also undoubtedly altered the local flora and fauna to some degree, as well as untold other factors in the surrounding microclimates. The river currents of old also likely helped to balance temperatures during summer months with their continuous flow of cooler water and fresh mountain air through the valleys on hot days. In some locations rivers now resemble thin, meandering lakes, or mini-fjords, where the water is mostly idle, particularly on the reservoir side of the dams. Today, this dynamic along with the fog it creates increases humidity and encourages mildew’s free run into vineyards on the river valley hillsides, often forcing frequent intervention from growers, inhibiting more efficient and ecologically-sound methods. Rivers alter the topography and create diversity by cutting hundreds of meters deep into the earth, exposing complex geological formations that would’ve otherwise been buried far below the surface. Flatter vineyards have less dramatic variations, and the topsoil often doesn’t correlate exactly with the underlying bedrock as much as it may on steeper hillside vineyards. With other nearby geological formations, the topsoil of vineyards below them can be easily altered with sedimentary deposits from those at higher altitudes. But in the Ribeira Sacra’s river gorges it doesn’t take but a meter or two to shift back and forth from igneous bedrock to metamorphic, just as it does in so many other Galician vineyard areas further into the countryside, away from the Atlantic and the Rías Baixas wine region. What’s more is that inside river gorges like most of those in the Ribeira Sacra, there is an abundant supply of exposures and slope angles. This may be a saving grace for the vineyards near these rivers because as the climate changes the growers can shift from the hottest exposures to cooler ones, while maintaining the same superb bedrock, topsoil and all other characteristics imparted by the local terroir. This practice has already taken hold in the area, with many growers exploring potential vineyard sites that in the past would not have been advantageous. But in the coming decades, these more sheltered sites may provide enough refuge to keep businesses afloat instead of being choked out by the sun. The Grapes There is a lot more insightful information out there on the grapes of Galicia, so I won’t spend too much time in this section. However, I would advise that any interested parties do their research with a wide variety of sources, as I’ve found some inconsistencies in places that I thought would have been more accurate. (Perhaps Jancis Robinson’s book on grapes is the most ideal source.) I will focus on just a few grapes that I find particularly compelling options that regularly demonstrate that they can compete at a very high level. In the right hands and the right terroir inside the Ribeira Sacra, Mencia can render a high- quality wine. The proposed descendant of Caíño and Merenzao (a hard parental pair to imagine, given how dramatically different those two grapes are to Mencia from a finished wine standpoint), it can be dark in color, depending on the vineyard exposure: when well-exposed it can get darker, while with greater protection from the sun the grapes tend to be more red than black—as with most red grapes. It can be suave, supple and convivial; it can also channel the terroir with clarity, as demonstrated by so many examples from the better producers in the region. While Mencia is the most commonly planted grape in the Ribeira Sacra, it is also the most commonly criticized by winegrowers. Their beef with it seems to revolve around its inability to maintain acidity when it reaches its optimal phenolic balance. I’ve been told that its point of origin is likely on the other side of the Galician mountains in the Castilla y Leon, an area where it seems to thrive and maintain solid natural acidity at much higher altitudes. It’s around the Jamuz area where the vines are ancient (more than eighty years old) and grow at altitudes of eight hundred to over a thousand meters, similar to in some higher-altitude areas of Bierzo, where it can also do very well to maintain a decent amount of natural acidity. It’s commonly said that Mencia was not planted in the Ribeira Sacra before phylloxera, but gained ground because of its reliability as a grape, year in and year out. And in a wine region historically as poor as the Ribeira Sacra has been for more than a century, it made complete economic sense—just as when many low-producing grape varieties were ousted all over Europe for other grapes that could generate crops worth growing during hard times. Sadly, many growers feel obliged to manage the low natural acidity of Mencia by adding tartaric acid from a bag—no thanks. The clever ones dose the blend with other quality grapes naturally high in acidity; or maybe they do it the old-fashioned way and work diligently to find the right hour in the right day to catch the grapes in a moment of perfect natural balance. Best to stick with the top growers to get the real deal. If natural freshness is a cornerstone in one’s wine preferences, look for those grown in cooler subzones and microclimates. Other Glorious Ribeira Sacra Grapes We begin with the reds, those with a naturally lighter hue, resulting more often in wines with brighter red tones. They are grapes with greater natural acidity and aromatic lift that when blended with Mencia can take it from a wine on the border of being drab and turn it into a real symphony, with great lift and complexity—that scene in the movie “Amadeus” comes to mind, the one where Mozart makes changes to Salieri’s composition, transforming it from something melodic but also mediocre, to a much more invigorating composition. (watch here) First we will just touch on the whole of the Caíño family, of which there are numerous biotypes, all with the prefix, Caíño. Caíños are intense. Sometimes they can be snuggly acidic when bottled alone (and even more aggressive in cooler areas, like Ribeiro and Rías Baixas) and will serve well when added to a wine that is missing strength in its acidic spine. That said, I believe this grape has serious untapped potential, and in the face of climate change—coupled with a better understanding of how to grow it—it will surely rise up in the ranks and find more balance. It has everything a truly great family of grapes possesses: naturally good if not obscene acidity in some cases, a fullness in the palate, good core concentration, quality phenolic maturity at lower alcohol levels, and a rare talent for not only channeling its terroir, but giving it thrust. Then there are the dazzling Brancellao and Merenzao—exciting prospects with a more inviting and gentler acidity than the Caíño clan. Brancellao is perfumed and subtle while maintaining a mouth-filling freshness on a delicate frame; it’s also known in some parts as Albarello. There is mega promise with this grape, as with Caíño. Merenzao is the same as Trousseau, one of the Jura’s fuller-bodied reds (but only fuller within the context of the Jura) and it thrives well in Galicia. Merenzao seems to me more pungently perfumed than the Caíños and Brancellao. It renders extremely inviting wines that are well balanced and lively in freshness. It’s another grape that deserves a big share of land inside a quality vineyard. The darker grapes such as Garnacha Tintorera (one of the rare grapes with red pulp), Mouraton (a big, dark cluster), Tempranillo (Spain’s most famous red grape, responsible most famously for the wines of Rioja and many of the Duero River appellations), and Sousón are an interesting bunch. Sousón has become a favorite of mine within this category for its virile, beast, dark berry and spicy characteristics; it seems like a giant in waiting for someone to fully unlock, if they can also control its intense power. Known in Portugal as Vinhão (and probably a number of other different names within Iberia), it makes a slightly sparkling, mouth-staining, delicious wine traditionally served cold. This wine is not for everyone, but I happen to love it and believe there is a tremendous potential in parts of Galicia and Northern Portugal if it’s done with great care, higher viticultural precision and with some financial motivation—that is, a good selling price! (There are plenty more red grapes out there that I have little or no experience with, and when more information comes my way, I will work it in.) Outside of Albariño, many of Galicia’s white grapes have a hard time standing on their own; some would argue that the same is true for most of the reds too. Without the addition of complimentary grapes in a blend, many expose gaps in the overall balance of single variety wines. Thus far, Ribeiro and to a much greater extent, Rías Biaxas, seem more suitable than further east appellations in Galicia (save the fabulous white grape Godello), and this likely has much more to do with climate than anything—in the Ribeira Sacra, we have to accept, at least in this moment of the region’s evolution, that not all wine regions are endowed with red and white wine of equal talent. Admittedly, I have a relatively limited personal experience with the white wines of Ribeira Sacra, so I’ve yet to find an abundance of compelling examples to warrant in-depth exploration or explanation. If I have the option I always tend to gravitate toward wines largely composed of, or reinforced by, grapes with higher natural acidity, such as Godello, Caiño Branco, Agudelo (Chenin Blanc), or even Albariño, but the latter finds its peak within sight of the Atlantic, especially in Salnés. Perhaps the challenge is that many of the great red wine producers grow white wines in the same vineyards with reds instead of more suitable terroirs that naturally retain freshness without too much trouble. On the optimistic side, maybe it’s just a matter of time before they really begin to hit the mark. Geologic Setting and Considerations As I frequently mention in my wine exploration writings, geology is an extremely important factor, and once we are able to isolate specific characteristics in the taste and texture, and perhaps to a lesser degree, aroma, the similarities between geological formations become more apparent. However, it’s important to keep in mind that many of these specific nuances may subtly exist, and sometimes are abstract and personal for most people. These nuances often rest in the background, acting as a secondary support to more pronounced wine traits coming from the grape(s), the conditions of each particular season, and the stylistic influence of the winemaker. That said, in Galicia the geologic setting seems to strongly mark the resulting wines as much as anywhere in the wine world. Galicia is geologically diverse and home to some of the oldest rock formations within Europe’s wine regions. This range of rocks is credited with what is known as the Variscan/Hercynian orogenic belt—an apt description of how this geological formation is shaped. Hundreds of millions of years ago a somewhat small but long continent called Armorica (which makes up today’s European massifs: Iberian, Armorican, Central, Rhenish and Bohemian) was sandwiched between the two mega continents Laurasia (home to today’s North America, Europe and Asia, minus India) and Gondwana (Africa, South America, Antarctica, Australia, India) in a forceful collision that lasted for tens of millions of years. The bottom of the ancient oceans of the larger continents were driven below everything (geologists call this subduction) as they lifted and mangled Armorica until it resembled a partially uncoiled snake, or belt. During orogenic processes (mountain-building events), preexisting rocks can be lifted, subducted, twisted, deformed, and altered in mineral composition due to the extreme heat and pressure in what geologist refer to as “violent events,” although, with the exception of volcanic eruptions, these processes are extremely slow. Those rocks altered by severe heat and pressure are categorized as metamorphic rocks. Depending on the type of metamorphic rock, they may have a particular influence on viticultural and enological practices. On color-coded geological maps of the Iberian Peninsula there is a unique curvature in the northwest and western parts that starts in the direction of the north and nicely curves toward the east; this is the result of the Variscan orogeny. This collision that joined these three continents created Pangaea, the last of Earth’s supercontinents. Pangaea began to separate about two hundred million years ago. A Brief Explanation of the Ribeira Sacra Formation from Master of Science in Geology, and PhD student at the University of Vigo, Ivan Rodriguez The formation of the Ribeira Sacra began about two hundred million years ago. During this period, the northwestern part of Spain and northern Portugal were part of a large island, while what would be the rest of today's Spain and Portugal didn't yet exist. During the Alpine orogeny, the Cantabrian Mountains—a range that extends from Galicia across the north coast of Spain to the Pyrenees, the mountains that separate Spain and France—began to form sometime between forty to sixty million years ago. These mountains produced changes in the landscape of the surrounding areas resulting in the formation of new watercourses that developed along old tectonic faults. These watercourses, today's Miño and Sil, are the main rivers of the Ribeira Sacra. Interestingly, granite and slate, two contrasting rock types with very different levels of hardness dominate the Ribeira Sacra landscape and influence the topography of each river valley. In areas dominated by slate, the far softer of the two rocks, the watercourse eroded the landscape to create wider valleys with less steep hillsides. By contrast, the sections of river composed of granite eroded into deeper valleys with steeper, more abrupt rock walls. The Geologic Connection with Wine As one might imagine, a lot has happened since the breakup of Pangaea. Some of the Variscan Mountains remain above the water line but are severely eroded, and while we don’t see them named on today’s global maps, their remnants connect many European wine regions in France (Muscadet, Anjou, Alsace, Beaujolais, Northern Rhône, Corsica), Austria (Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal), many western German wine regions, and Western Iberia (Portugal, and parts of Western Spain, including Galicia and the Ribeira Sacra). The geological connection between wine regions (not only those remnants from the Variscan orogeny) often shares specific characteristics regardless of the influence of the grape(s) and winemaking. There are indeed likely more characteristic differences between wines grown in different regions, but there are some unique similarities as well. The most notable connections being—at least for myself and many of my wine professional cohorts—the intensity of mineral/metal impressions expressed through palate textures and weight, and the perception of residual pressure and potency of textures on specific locations of the palate. For example, wines grown in granite-based bedrock and topsoil often carry more strength and localized textures in the frontal area of the palate on the finish, while metamorphic bedrock and topsoil can often be the opposite, with textures more weighted toward the back palate. Both of these influences in one wine can bring balance to these perceived strengths, likely making for a wine with a more diverse array of palate textures, and perhaps a perception of greater complexity. The Ribeira Sacra bedrock is less uniform than what is found further to the west, close to the Atlantic in the Rías Baixas, a wine landscape dominated by igneous rocks, most notably granite and granodiorite, and topsoil derived from these bedrocks. The Ribeira Sacra bedrock is principally composed of igneous (those most common here are granite and granodiorite as well) and foliated metamorphic rocks (most common, from low to high grade, are slate, schist and gneiss). This ensemble of mixed bedrock and soil types can render wines from one place to another quite different, while still remaining true to the overarching regional characteristics of their terroirs. And within these wine regions, there are varying degrees of soil grains, from clay, silt, sand, and gravel, to much rockier terrain. The soil grain seems to influence the shape of a wine (whether it can be described as round, or angular) in a different way than the influence of the bedrock and topsoil mineral composition. Indeed, in the science world ideas and theories that link taste to rock type are considered pseudoscience. But perhaps one day someone will be able to coherently and scientifically explain the mechanics of these perceived differences. The makeup of the dirt that grapevines are grown in is complicated and there are few regions as complicated in both bedrock and topsoil under a singular cohesive appellation as the Ribeira Sacra. Thanks to the complexity of each microclimate and geologic setting, and the conundrum of Galicia’s lost knowledge for what grapes are most suitable within each specific spot makes for a fun adventure that we have the privilege to watch blossom in our lifetimes. MsC Geologist, Ivan Rodrigues, in the Valdeorras D.O. Terroir Overview of Ribeira Sacra Subzones There are five Ribeira Sacra subzones and each one is as internally diverse as it is expansive. With these subzones the climate is perhaps much more easily understood than the geologic setting. There are no concrete differences from one subzone to the next, rather gradual changes. In fact, much of the geographical separation is based on their respective monastic histories. Because of the chaotic arrangement of different rock formations and the overall size of the entire appellation, specific vineyard sites within each subzone takes greater precedence (a general rule to follow in the entire wine world rather than adhering to broad generalities, not only with the Ribeira Sacra) because even within many vineyards the bedrock and topsoil can completely change only a few meters apart, especially inside river gorges with deep complexities as those of the Ribeira Sacra. And the difference between wines made from the same grapes and techniques in the cellar on differing bedrock types can be starkly clear to more experienced tasters, but this is nothing new to the wine world. Starting in the furthest east of the appellation, abutting another Galician wine region, Valdeorras, is the subzone Quiroga-Bibei. This subzone is the most influenced by what can be described as either a Mediterranean sub-humid climate, or a continental one, due to its predominantly mountainous terrain. It has drier and hotter summers, cold and even potentially snowy winters, high average altitude, and a multitude of rock types between granite and a large range of metamorphic rocks, with the dominant one slate, and to a lesser degree black schist, quartzite and the glandular gneiss known as Ollo de Sapo—named after its appearance like a “toad’s eye.” There are also four notable tributaries (Bibei, Jares, Lor, and Navea) to the Sil River. Within these five river valleys and the surrounding lower altitude hills offer a large range of ideal exposures and quality viticulture land. This subzone seems to be a sleeping giant within the Ribeira Sacra; its only real challenge is that it’s even further into less charted territory and far away from a strong commercial center. Amandi is the most famous subzone in the Ribeira Sacra. Here, this central subzone has a concentration of successful bodegas that started to garner greater global attention in the mid-2010s. Its notoriety is a combination of breathtaking vineyard land inside the Sil River gorge and high quality production due to a lot of consistent ripening (at least historically), with an assortment of privileged positions compared to other areas in Galicia. This makes for a large range of wine styles, many of which are surprisingly accessible. But the most important element is the strong and energized collection of progressive winegrowers with a desire to create clear identities, along with a history of proactive local commerce handed down through generations. These restaurants and stores make a concerted effort to sell and deliver their wines directly to the main non-wine producing city areas, like Santiago, Lugo and A Coruña. Ribeira Sacra wines still maintain favorable commercial positions in the larger urban areas because they had already established their wines in those markets before global interest in the area increased significantly. This extra effort from the previous generation gave the Amandi a head start over the other subzones. Located only on the north side of the Sil River, the Amandi is slightly farther from the mountains than Quiroga-Bibei. However, the continental climate still prevails in the extremes of the season, with big summertime temperatures that can bring dryness and more treacherous weather, and at the worst times of the year. Spring frosts and summer hailstorms can clip the region’s already naturally low potential crop. And the Atlantic can force its way in, increasing mildew pressure by bringing in more humidity and rain. Climatically, this subzone is on a two-front battle with nature, and these growers undoubtedly feel the fiscal brunt as a result. Like all of the subzones of the Ribeira Sacra, Amandi has a variety of igneous and metamorphic rocks—Ollo de Sapo (gneiss), slate, quartzite—but doesn’t have a large presence of schist compared to other areas in Ribeira Sacra. Inside the Sil river gorge many terraces are precariously steep. The topsoil depth is shallow, making for greater susceptibility to the effects of drought, but in wetter years it has an advantage over vineyards with deeper topsoil that may have naturally higher water retention. It’s also harder to work, not only because of the physical difficulty, but the lack of help; if people are even available, few are willing to participate in the backbreaking work on the hard hillside vineyards—a common problem in all steeply pitched wine regions, everywhere. Not all of Amandi’s vineyards are on such precarious hillsides. In fact, only about 40% are inside the river gorge, while much of it is outside on more manageable land where mechanization is easier—or at least possible—and those vineyards still worked by hand can be a little less backbreaking. The range of altitudes in this subzone varies greatly, somewhere between two-hundred-and-fifty to six hundred meters. Deeper topsoil vineyards are often at higher altitudes on flatter areas—a relative term for the area. For comparison, think France’s Northern Rhône Valley appellation, Saint-Joseph, where there are many vineyards on steep hillsides, but there are also those within the appellation at higher altitudes on much flatter terrain. These diverse vineyard settings create a greater variability in the overall impression of Saint-Joseph. Those on steep, rocky hillsides are typically more concentrated, muscular, dense, angular, and “vertical” (one of the few common and abstract ways some use in the wine trade to assign an actual sensory impression descriptor that often relates to vineyards grown on very rocky terrain with little topsoil, like a steep hillside). Wines grown on deeper topsoil and higher up on the hills behind the main slopes are likely more “horizontal” in shape, and often render rounder wines with softer lines and less angularity. But once again, the specific site and the skill and stylistic choices of the winegrower take precedence over all things here, just as it does in the Ribeira Sacra and elsewhere. Amandi on the left, Ribeiras do Sil on the right Across from Amandi on the Sil is the subzone, Ribeiras do Sil. As one might expect, much of the geological terrain in this subzone is the same as Amandi on the other side of the river, except for its largely northern vineyard expositions inside the river gorge. Also, there may be a greater degree of erosion on the Amandi side of the Sil because of thousands of years of cultivation. Today, as in the past, the Ribeiras do Sil side is often at a disadvantage when it comes to ripening, compared to Amandi. However, it may become the place to be, what with the unrelenting temperature increase and extreme weather patterns due to climate change. Many of the great producers within the Amandi also have vineyards here—undoubtedly a smart move for the future. Farthest west and north, on the opposite side from Quiroga-Bibei, are the subzones, Chantada and Ribeiras do Miño. With headwaters around seventy kilometers north of Lugo, the Miño River meanders through this old Roman settlement and continues toward the southwest, finally spilling into the Atlantic after its final eighty-kilometer stretch as a natural, physical border between part of northern Portugal and Spain’s Galicia. Only thirty or so kilometers south of Lugo the subzones, Chantada (on the right/west bank) and Ribeiras do Miño (on the left/east bank), follow the Miño south and end near the merging point of the Sil and Miño. Just as it is with the Sil, the Miño has many hydroelectric dams and is one of those places where some spots have the appearance of a long lake rather than a river. Fazenda Prádio vineyards in Chantada Adega Saíñas’ vineyard, O Boliño, with Pablo Soldavini What is most notable about these areas compared to the other three subzones of the Ribeira Sacra is the increased influence of the Atlantic Ocean. This results in cooler temperatures and much more precipitation, with an average of about two hundred millimeters of rain more than Amandi and perhaps even more than Quiroga-Bibei. The wines here should have a greater potential for higher tones and fresher acidity with fully ripened grapes than the other subzones—leaning in style more toward the neighboring appellation to the west, the Ribeiro. However, much of this depends on the stylistic choices of the winegrower and what limits are imposed by any given year. The cooler areas are in the north, but the temperature differences inside this fifty-something kilometer stretch of land are not dramatic, and again have much more to do with each specific terroir. Both generalizations and concrete truths are difficult to make in the Ribeira Sacra, and Chantada and Ribeiras do Miño are no exception. While a lot of the vineyard land snugs up to the Miño, there is an abundance of factors that can change the overall impression of the wines: the proximity to rivers, the rock and dirt, mildew pressure, grape selection, slope, altitude, topsoil depth and composition, ripening due to exposure advantages (which in some cases can now be disadvantages with the chaotic weather from one vintage to the next), bedrock and topsoil composition. Yes, a lot to consider, but it all shows up in the wine. The Miño traverses a series of diverse geological systems. And with one look at a color-coded geology map it’s easy to see that it’s a complex topic, which helps us to avoid generalizations in any of the subzones (beyond “it’s complicated”) when it comes to bedrock composition. Perhaps if all the land were planted it would be easier to say what dominates, though there does seem to be the potential to find just about every metamorphic rock (with a great diversity even within each category of slate, schist and gneiss) and intrusive igneous rocks (granites, granodiorites, etc) under the sun with a lot of sedimentary depositions (sandstones and perhaps even some limestones from the Cantabrian mountains) along the Miño, but it depends on each specific location. To make things more complicated, most geological maps are color-coded by different geological time frames, not actual rock types. Sometimes the only option in determining a general idea of what rocks were most likely created during a given geological time period in a specific location is to make an educated guess. Final Thoughts, For Now When in pursuit of quality wine, there is one simple suggestion to follow in the Ribeira Sacra, as in the rest of the world: Follow the producer. By following specific producers you will begin to understand the story of each wine’s vineyard or vineyards, how, and even more importantly, why the winegrower made the specific choices they made in their vineyard and cellar work. Compelling wine is made by serious people, period. Every vineyard has its own unique setting, and serious growers take into account as many factors as possible, from the big picture down to its molecular mechanics. The problem in the Ribeira Sacra is that there are not yet very many serious growers like there are in the world’s most famous and well-established wine regions. However, this renaissance has just begun, and those who are at the forefront are some of the wine world’s most interesting minds. What is most interesting and exciting about Galicia wine is that there are no laurels to rest on. Like so many wine regions being rediscovered, these curious Galegos have returned to a wild backcountry to rediscover lost ancestral knowledge. They must enter with inexhaustible diligence and perseverance to continue learning and growing to even achieve economic survival on this path. They have to live with open minds, and to think deeply about what they are doing, and why. This is why we are in a special time for Galicia. This is why I am drawn to these people and this ancient place. They are living their dreams and they do it with infectious and relentless energy and enthusiasm.
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. ■
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. ■