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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.
The first time I stood on the hill, I didn’t think much of it. It’s a quiet place just outside of the famous French wine town, Saumur. To tell you the truth, there wasn’t much to admire besides a quaint, but lifeless, chateau sitting on top of it. This insipid wonder attracts droves of tourists every year to snap photos and walk away with a lousy souvenir wine from the chateau. Indeed, the recent history of this chateau is one of making downright terrible wines. This hill, however, has a glorious history that has been almost completely forgotten –until now… My addiction to this hill began about four years ago. During my debut as a wine importer, I spent six months chatting it up with various people in the business about producers that could be interesting for me before I pulled the trigger on my maiden voyage in search of the holy grail. Amongst my group of “sources”, was a friend back in Virginia who also runs an import company. Although he was only 26 when I met him, this guy had developed a remarkable and enviable palate for wine. He told me that he drank many great wines throughout his life because his father was a serious wine collector. It must have been nice… My first taste of wine was not one of privilege. I grew up in a small town in Montana, called Kalispell. Most people thought I said “cow’s bell”, or “cattle smell”, when they asked what the name of the town was. I suppose both names could make sense after meeting a hick like me. Because Montana wasn't exactly a mecca for wine lovers, my first contact with wine was an unforgettable bottle of Manaschewitz. It was one of the worst things I can remember putting in my mouth as a kid, and believe me, I put a lot of disgusting things in my mouth back then. After I snuck a taste, I couldn’t understand why my parents would drink this thing that seems like it should have been poured over our salad. Given my first encounter with “wine”, it’s a miracle that I ever drank another glass of the stuff. I must admit, however, that I’ve never had another sip of Manaschewitz. Maybe I should give it another go, just to be fair; after all, it was probably open for at least two months, and I think I was about eight years old at the time. Anyway, my buddy back east told me about a few producers; one in particular caught my attention. He said that they were somewhat of a newcomer to Saumur, which is an area that specializes in two grapes: Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. He seemed pretty surprised that no major importer had picked them up yet in the States. It was a good lead, so I put an email together and sent it off to Domaine de St. Just, fingers crossed. You’d be surprised at how fast people sometimes respond to this sort of inquiry; most of the time, if you ask to buy their wines on the spot, they put it together and send it to you without much ado. Of course, you have to pay in advance, but that’s about it. At any rate, the owner of the domaine, Arnaud Lambert, wrote back immediately and invited me to visit the estate. I asked if it was fine with him to send samples to my friend’s house, in Provence, as I wasn’t planning on going to the Loire on this trip (even if the wines from this place were top notch). This was the only producer in this region that I had the beat on, and it was pretty far out of my way. Believe me, a thousand kilometers out of the way is a long distance to go only to find disappointment. By the end of 2010, I set off for France with proper financing to start importing wines to California. My first stop, whenever I travel to France, is at Pierre and Sonya’s house in Provence, called La Fabrique. Before I arrived, I made sure that it wasn’t a problem for them to receive samples sent for me –little did they know how much was on the way. Before my arrival, they sent me a message saying that, over the last couple of weeks, they had amassed about 11 boxes of wine. Admittedly, I also was a little surprised by how much wine showed up. I was going to be there for only two nights, so I proposed that La Fabrique throw a party. They thought I was insane when I told them that I was going to open all the bottles at the party because they only had gathered 15 people for it. It was a lot of wine, but in the end, only about a dozen bottles were worth drinking and most of them had been made by the hand of the same vigneron. The truth is, most of what we importers taste is pure junk; the good wines ones are only good, and the great ones are rare. A couple of hours before the party started, I began pulling corks to taste them all before everyone arrived. There were many that weren’t even fit for an outfit like Cost Plus. Then, I put my nose in the first white wine from St. Just, and I knew, straight away, that if the rest followed suit, I would have to reconsider making the journey to Saumur. I slowly worked through the entire range of his wines, looking for reasons not to go, but from top to bottom, they were all seamless. My friend was dead on and I was sure that I had found my first producer. I’ve been a fan of this area of France forever and these were some of the best wines I’ve tasted from there, period. The Chenins were clean, expressive and straightforward –and they weren’t too Chenin-y, if you know what I mean. Their Cabernet Franc wines from Saumur-Champigny were perfectly on par with what I wanted out of this grape: pure, clean, terroir-driven with charming bright red fruits. Honestly, I was more excited about the reds than the whites because I feel that, not only is Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley one of the most authentic terroir wines in all of France, but it is also, in commercial terms, a little easier to sell than Chenin Blanc. The problem I have with this area, however, is that a lot of the highly revered producers make wines that can be a little funky, and that’s not the type of horse that I want to get behind. Arnaud sent another box of samples from a different estate, which was also from Saumur. He put a note in the box telling me that he just started to work with this estate and that he’d like me to consider them as well, but because I was already sold on Arnaud’s wine, they sat in the box until the end of the tasting. In addtion, some of their labels were lousy and only served to further my lack of interest. Without expecting much, I arranged these other wines for a quick tasting. I didn’t expect to care much about them after I tasted the little gems from Domaine de St. Just –boy, was I in for a real shocker. I pulled the cork on the first white, and took a sniff that was loaded with minerals and high-strung citrus fruits. I had no idea of what was about to hit my mouth. When my brother Jon and I were kids, we dismantled a power cord and decided that it could be fun to stick the metal prongs into a wall outlet, with our bare hands. We weren’t the smartest kids, and perhaps that moment in my life explains a few glitches in my system. Anyway, this wine brought me back to that moment as it unleashed some serious liquid wattage into my mouth. This little wine was more than an attack on the palate –it was an assault. I was all puckered up and my head went sideways. It felt like I just brushed my teeth and rinsed my mouth out with a glass of Chablis. After a few more tastes, however, it became clear that there was something magic inside this angry little wine. I’ve always been a sucker for abuse, so this was right up my alley. I opened the second Saumur white, Clos David –it was like Meursault on crack. The first wine was all tension; this second wine was also intense, but it was endowed with more body and finesse. It was a more tamed beast, but a beast, nonetheless. Like the first wine, it tweaked my mouth in every direction, but that didn’t stop me from coming back for more. Every sip felt like I was getting smacked in the face by a furious, but sublime, French girl –I loved it! As I continued to taste, I kept thinking: “Are these wines just freaky good, or picked way too early?” I didn’t know because I’d never tasted anything like them before. They were somehow regal and barbaric at the same time; yet, it seemed like they came from a noble terroir. The rest of the wines followed suit with overwhelming tension. The reds had bright red fruit and flowers in aroma with an acidic backbone enviable even for a fine red Burgundy from a classic year. Every one of them was intensely acidic and penetrating, but once you made it through the pain, they were deep and pure. Although it is hard to believe, it’s still possible to find nearly abandoned or chemically destroyed vineyards all over Europe that were once owned by the elite classes of the past. Many of these precious grounds have been passed down generation after generation, only to fall from grace at the hands of a few misguided, or opportunistic, bean counters who put profit at the top of their agenda. They are the ones who manufacture cheap and industrialized imposters that are sold to tourists who think that they are walking away with a wine that, based on historical merit, was once suitable for a king. These wines, in reality, are only paupers dressed in a king’s clothes. There is a quiet hill and chateau with this story of abuse that has now lasted for over a half-century. It could be the greatest forgotten hill of our time; the hill is know as, Brézé. I saw the name “Brézé” for the first time on a bottle of white wine made from a well-respected, but underground, producer best-known for their red wines from Saumur-Champigny, the wine is called Clos Rougeard. I never paid their white wine much attention because it’s a rare bird and it's not usually hanging out at your local wine shop. I remember having it once before, but it didn’t catch my attention, so I never took the time to taste it again. The truth is, I visited Arnaud, not for the Brézé wines he had sent me, but for his Saumur-Champigny reds and his entry-level whites, which were much less physically taxing than the Brézé wines. The first time I visited Arnaud was January of 2011. He first took me to his vineyards in Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg. Nothing makes me happier than visiting vineyards. He was proud to show me that, unlike his neighbors, his land was full of natural grasses and herbs that grew freely between his vines. Moreover, his soils were thriving because he treated them respectfully and spared them synthetic chemical treatments that kill most of the bad (and good) micro-organisms. As we stood on this limestone hill, called Saint-Cyr, I remembered the energy I felt it in his wines the first time I tasted them. We spoke at length about the appellation and he pointed out that, historically, these vineyards have soils that are more suitable for white wines but had been planted to Cabernet Franc before he and his dad bought them back in 1996. Before their time, red wines were more profitable, so it became an economical choice to make the switch. As we finished our tour of Saint-Cyr, he mentioned this “Brézé” wine again as he pointed south and insisted that we go there to look at the vines before we head back to the cellar to taste. We drove to this unsuspecting hill about three kilometers across the way from Saint-Cyr. There was only a gently sloping alluvial valley that separated the hills of Saint-Cyr and Brézé, but I can assure you that the taste of their wines gives the impression that they are miles apart. Our first stop was at the Clos David –the Meursault on crack. Arnaud walked me into what appeared to be a clos; it had old broken down walls that I could easily jump over from a stand still. It wasn’t an impressive vineyard to look at. The vines were tired and seemingly unattended. The vineyard seemed to be held together by a thread and it looked like a cemetery of old vines. Arnaud plunged his hands in Clos David's soil and pulled a pile of chalky white and brown soil full of small limestone fragments. He put his hands full of soil close to my face for inspection. He gave me a faint smile, and, quite embarrassed, he said: “I brought you here to show you what damage has been done to these vineyard over the last century. Look at this topsoil… it’s dead, completely dead…” He told me that it was going to take years for any noticeable changes to take place in the topsoil. The underlying limestone, which holds the magic of these terroirs, had been penetrated long ago by these abused vines, and that’s what keeps them in the game. He pointed out, however, that through the years of abuse with chemical treatments, most of the development of the root systems had stayed close to the surface and didn’t have the power to dig much further than what they had done half a century ago. We went to another special parcel called Clos de la Rue, where he told me stories about the trading of bottles between Chateau de Brézé and other estates like Chateau d’Yquem, bottle for bottle. Each of these special parcels were, in the past, owned by France’s elite society and they were sent throughout the royal courts of Europe. At the time, they were known as “Chenin de Brézé”, and they were considered to be of the best white wines in all of France. While on the hill, Arnaud emphasized the importance of a concept that I seemed to have overlooked; the uniqueness of old walled vineyards, called "clos." Over centuries, vineyards change through erosion that result in a loss of soil. With the case of a vineyard surrounded by a wall, however, the historic soil structure remains while the rest of the vineyards around them, through centuries of erosion, can lose a significant amount of their ancient topsoil. That simple concept hit me like a ton of bricks. These enclosed vineyards are a geological and historical time capsule. They preserve the impression the wines had when they were regarded centuries ago as an important site. I was dumbfounded and saddened by Arnaud's story of Brézé. I could sense his animosity towards the more recent owners of this once great land. After the Second World War, they destroyed the life of their once magnificent terroirs. As we stood in the vineyard, my mind went back to the wines I had tasted in Provence and it started to make sense. The wines were taking only what they could find with the root systems developed as young vines over 60 years ago. They mostly expressed the structure of their deepest, stark-white chalky limestone soils, and not much more. The soil on top – mostly sand and clay – which usually feeds the wine with body, breadth and generosity had little to give. They were on a fast-food diet, yet, somehow, the terroir still fought through. As I walked between rows, looking at the damage, I began to recollect the staggering power my mouth felt a week before in Provence. I realized that what I had tasted were skeletons of what the wines used to be. The vineyards seemed like they were on their way out as many vines were missing and the remaining survivors were fighting a tough fight. I had only tasted their skin and bones –but what powerful skin and bones they were. I looked at Arnaud with disbelief and disappointment. A smile began to grow on his face. He looked at me and declared with a contemptuous tone: “Now, with the children out of the way, we’ll see how great this hill is back in the hands of men.” That moment will stay with me forever and writing down Arnaud’s exact words sends a chill through my body. Hearing stories about the former glory of Brézé was exciting. Arnaud explained that he had signed a 20-year lease on the vineyards. He let a few more kittens out of the bag when he told me that this historic wine hill was once considered one of the greatest wine producing communes in the entire north of France, and one of the two best of the Loire Valley –the other being Savennieres. He added that there were only three other producers bottling estate wines from the hill: Clos Rougeard, Domaine du Collier and France’s newest darling, Romain Guiberteau. Arnaud is originally from Normandy, so these guys had to fill him in on the legend of Brézé. He told me that there are records at the Chateau de Brézé of the historical affairs of the hill which likely give insights on the production of its wines throughout the centuries. Arnaud and others have asked to see them, but the owner of the Chateau dismissed their request, likely out of spite for Arnaud’s growing success with the vineyards that their incompetence let go to pasture. The history is there, but he won’t let anyone have a look at it. To add to this incredible story, Arnaud told me that the rest of the farmers who own quality parcels on the hill sell their grapes to the local co-op because they have no reason, let alone means, to produce commercial wines. What goes on with this hill is unbelievable and Arnaud, at times, he had to stop his account to laugh with me about how absurd it all was. Brézé had been neglected for so long that even the locals, who own a piece of this unique place, throw their grapes into a collective wine that is probably sold down the street at Super U for three euros. What is this madness?! Don’t they know what they have? Clearly, they don’t. The good news, however, that the story of this once glorious hill now rests in the capable hands of a man determined to resurrect this hill of historical vineyards. Once the Chateau de Brézé rises again, so will the rest of the hill. After we finished our tour of some of the clos, we went back for a taste. At this point, I was chomping at the bit to get some of these wines back in my mouth. As soon as we got there, we tasted the St. Just wines, which I was already set on importing. Then we started the Brézé bottlings. On my first smell and taste, I better understood the electrical current that flowed through my mouth. All that these unstoppable terroirs had to give once again began screaming in my face, calling attention their glorious past. After 65 years of punishment and neglect, the wines made in these suppressed vineyards still shined. I was all in. Not surprisingly, on my last year on my visit to Brézé, Arnaud had more things up his sleeve. He told me that the fruit for both of the “entry-level” cuvées, that were simply labeled "Saumur," come from individual historical clos, the Clos du Midi for the white, and the Clos Mazurique for the red. You’ve got to be kidding me! He finally decided to reveal this to me on my third year of selling the wines?! I almost flipped out at him. I was beside myself that he didn’t put the name of the clos on the label! Here, we are talking about this hill and it’s glorious collection of clos, and he’s got this cheap entry-level wine made from a historical site with historical pedigree that he puts into a generic bottling?! I was flabbergasted. “Arnaud, what else are you not telling me?” I demanded. I felt like a death row lawyer dealing with a man who was keeping secrets that could exonerate him. He explained that he had just acquired over 20 hectares of land that he did not have a market for. He had to choose which vineyards to put in the most energy and money. He simply chose to use the two largest crus as the entry-level wines. Crazy… Don’t get used to the cheap prices, they won’t last. I promise you. In 2009, Arnaud and his father Yves signed a deal with the Comte de Colbert for the rights to the vineyards of the Chateau de Brézé. They knew what was needed to nurse the vines back to health. The first trip to the vineyards with Arnaud felt like the sad beginning of an epic movie in which our hero would inevitably triumph as he humbly stood upon the hill after reinstating her glory. Since the day they gained control, they started the process of converting to organic farming with the idea to eventually move into a biodynamic practice. When I asked why he didn’t go straight to biodynamics, he explained that moving the vines into a real biodynamic culture within three years was simply impossible. He pointed out that because the topsoils of all the vineyards were desolate and void of almost all microbial life, making such a bold move at an early stage wasn’t the right way. He further explained that he didn’t want to fabricate the soils by introducing a bunch of foreign microbes to supercharge the healing process. He believes in the terroir and feels that nature needs to find her way again into the vineyards. He estimated that, in ten years, he would be able to assert with confidence that his vineyards were performing at the level of a healthy biodynamic environment. Last year, six years after they started farming organically, he expected to finally see some natural grass growing again. Each time Arnaud tells me something disturbing like that, he looks at me out of the side of his eyes, with a smirk, and his head pointed down as though he felt responsible for what took place before him. Indeed, what happened here is embarrassing; sadly, it’s not uncommon. What makes it especially disheartening, in this case, is the negligence with vineyards that possesses such a rich history. Last year, I had dinner with Romain Guiberteau and Arnaud Lambert, both of whom I import to California. We went down to Arnaud’s cave, below his house, to taste his 2012 single-vineyard wines from both hills. After four years of organic farming, the whites were simply off the charts. After we tasted, Romain needed a smoke, so he and I went outside and started to chat while Arnaud stayed in the cave to organize a few more wines to taste. Romain took a long draw of his cigarette and leaned into me as though he was going to tell me a secret. He quietly said in French: “Yes, I have ONE (Clos des Carmes) of the greatest vineyards on the hill… He has the other EIGHT…” He stared at me as he pointed his finger towards the cellar where Arnaud was and continued: “He’s a great winemaker and he’s just getting started. My vineyards have been in organic culture already for over ten years and he’s just converting them now. Just wait, he’s the one to watch. He has them all…” Hearing this confession from one of the hottest young vignerons in France was unreal. It was a wonderful insight into the character of Romain Guiberteau. He’s a selfless, passionate man interested in the success of his friend Arnaud, as are the other vignerons on the hill, Antoine Foucoult and his father and uncle from the Clos Rougeard. I haven’t met anyone from the Foucoult family, but Arnaud told me that he feels like they are all in it together with him; like a band of brothers. It’s impressive. Two weeks ago, I was in Saumur to pay another visit to Arnaud and Romain. We further discussed the nature of the wines produced on this hill and my purchase of the 2010 basic Saumur white and red from Chateau de Brézé a few years ago. I revealed to them that I only started to find success with the Brézé wines at the start of 2013 and that I hardly sold a single case the first 18 months as they sat in my warehouse. I was a little afraid to show the wines at first because they were taut for so long, but when we unleashed Guiberteau into the California market last year, it helped prime the market’s palate for the wines of Chateau de Brézé. The wines from Romain shocked (literally) everyone and, by that time, the Brézé wines finally relaxed and started to put their cards on the table. They were a perfect follow after Guiberteau floored the market and were welcomed with the same enthusiasm. That night, we all agreed that the wines from Brézé need much more time in the bottle before being sold. That’s why Romain already sells his high-end cuvées three or four years after the vintage date. The next morning, I could see anguish on Arnaud’s face. He told me that, because of our conversation last night, he decided that he was going to ask the bank for more money in order to make the wines age longer before releasing them. It’s this kind of stuff that makes Arnaud special. He never ceases to impress me as his commitment to the success of this hill is inspiring. Two weeks ago – almost four years after my first visit – Arnaud and I walked the vineyards again. I wanted to spend more time in the vineyards to get a better understanding of each clos. As we walked through, the vineyards were showing signs of new life. We reminisced what has happened over the last years that led up to this point. As we bent over to admire new life emerging after a lifetime of abuse, we smiled and grabbed piles of dirt and rock from each sight to inspect its renewing quality. The natural grasses were popping and the life of the soil was being nursed back to health. The vineyards are changing, so is Arnaud. He is a different man than when I met him four years ago. Since then, he’s had a rough patch with the tragic early passing of his wife and his father just a year after my first visit with him. It's a hard story to hear from such a wonderful guy. As we carried on, I realized that the dark cloud, cast over Brézé and Arnaud, is lifting more and more with the passing of each year. Four years ago, I stood with Arnaud at the Clos du Chateau vineyard on the very top of the hill without realizing that this place would become one of my most unexpected love affairs with wine. It's heartwarming to see that the other great producers from the hill, rather than competing with Arnaud, act as his strongest supporting cast. They all know of this almost forgotten history that has been silenced for decades inside this mysterious hill. They are all anxiously waiting to see what Arnaud unearths as he nurses her back to health. There is something stirring on this little hill, and soon, the wine world will remember her name; she is Brézé, the greatest forgotten hill.
Navelli, Abruzzo. Home to CantinArte’s high altitude white wines. (Download complete pdf here) Two months at a time was how I used to do the rounds with our growers. Winter and spring. Summer was too expensive and a fight for good lodging. Fall is too unpredictable with harvest to plan far in advance with most growers waiting for the right time, nerves on alert, hopes high but wearing a stoic face in case of disaster. That was all back before almost every year was hot and early. I arrived home to Portugal in time for Thanksgiving week, obviously not a thing here. During fifteen days on the road I passed through the Loire Valley Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc country (skipping Sauvignon zones–no time this trip), Chablis, Champagne, and added more belly weight and a constant redness to my eyes in Piemonte, as the vines were strangely still green in most of the Langhe toward the end of November. Milan to Porto, an easy direct flight home, I thought, started in Monforte d’Alba at seven in the morning on a crisp, clear, Alp-majestic Sunday morning. Thirteen hours later I descended into a deluge in northern Portugal that started a month ago and hasn’t let up since. I thought I’d have half a Sunday to prepare myself for the coming catchup week, but airports and planes and the unusually extensive delays when you’re tired don’t make for great recovery. Photo from Monforte d’Alba, November 2022 I can’t sleep on planes. Other than one time on the way to Chile it hasn’t happened again for more than ten minutes. I used to fly to Europe three times a year for a month each time when we first started our company. I figured that since I struggle with jet lag as much as I do that I may as well make it worth it by staying longer. Los Angeles (starting in Santa Barbara) to any EU destination is a real slog, a big disadvantage compared to East Coasters. Eventually I extended to two two-month trips in the last three years before I suggested to my wife and my business partner and co-owner and cofounder of The Source, Donny, that I move to Europe full time. Everyone was for it, surprisingly, and during a two-week vacation in Amalfi Coast’s perfect fishing village, Cetara, my wife opened the door with, “I could live here.” We landed on the first of September in 2018, a precise date our visa required of us, but after three months in Salerno, the major port town to the east of the Amalfi Coast, I knew Italy wasn’t our final European destination. Now I prefer to travel in the summer, but this fall trip was a necessity because I’ve done so much scouting and bringing on new producers. I also need to keep up with everyone already on our roster. Last year, having packed a foam roller and nicely padded yoga mat (both necessities now to keep me loose while my body atrophies along the way), I took a six-week solo road trip from Portugal and on through northern Spain, southern France, northern Italy, into Austria, then boomeranging back to Germany, across into Champagne, then directly south through France, a right at Barcelona and back home by the first week of July. It was quite a loop and one of my most memorable trips to date. Despite higher costs, summers are the best time for my work on the road. Long days to grab as much visual candy as possible, nicer weather, light packing, and happier moods thanks to lighter summer fare, an all-you-can-soak-up supply of Vitamin D, and heightened spirits in hopes of a successful coming harvest. 2021 has a lot to offer. While difficult in some places, it put the “classic” back in many wines, despite the losses, though I guess losses are classic too. 2022 was the opposite of 2021. Brutally hot by European standards. However, the upside was that in many places the grape yield was very high, a good offset for what could’ve been a gargantuanly alcoholic vintage turned out not so extreme, though many producers, including Dave Fletcher, said he’d never seen such perfect fruit—no rot, no disease, clean and pretty. The balance of wines in each region is far from determined, but at least for the most part there’s wine to sell after the shortages of 2021. Vincent Bergeron, one of our new producers in Montlouis, explained that he had too much fruit and it was even more stressful as a short vintage because he wasn’t prepared to receive such an overload. 2021 was exactly the opposite. Everyone wants a “normal” harvest each year but we all know that the new normal is that everything is unpredictable. Feast or famine. After two weeks with a party of four (one very light drinker that understandably didn’t pull her weight!), seven meals back-to-back with at least two bottles of Nebbiolo on each table (three the majority of the time), plus cantina visits before and after lunch, five different orders of Vitello Tonnato (top honors to Osteria La Libera, though La Torri and Bovio were a close second, all with different styles), seven orders of Plin in many forms (we couldn’t resist it during every meal, and top spot goes to La Libera again, though all were delicious), and six orders of Tajarin (top spot a tie between La Libera and Osteria Unione with only a slight textural difference in the pasta as the deciding factor), and without a doubt the best steak tartare at L’Eremo della Gasparina. It’s now Tuesday morning, and I’m still hurting a bit but craving a little Nebbiolo. I’ve not written since last month’s newsletter and I’m happy to finally be stationary. As usual, there are so many things to talk and think about re: all that’s happened this year. It’s Thanksgiving week and I have a lot to be thankful for, though I don’t really get to that complete gratitude moment until the week between Christmas and New Year’s when I really feel like I’m left alone to focus on cooking and non-business talk with my wife. But like summer’s promise and the anticipation of the coming harvest and the mystery of opening nature’s unpredictable gift box for the growers, I can’t help but look toward 2023 and what’s coming our way with our new producers. In January, I will share with you a little teaser for what is on the horizon for the first half of the year. There are about fifteen new producers, almost all of whom have never been imported to the US before. You know, wine importers either continue to grow or they get poached to death, so I gotta shed this plin and tajarin weight (and the weight gained on the stop in France beforehand) and get back in the office to prepare for next year. There’s always a new fire-breathing dragon on our heels and promising new winegrowers to be found. I love this job, and though it’s a privileged and fortunate métier, it’s rarely a carefree party. Well, not until Saturday dinner. California Events Friday, December 9th, San Francisco retailer DECANT sf’s 4th Annual Winter Fête from 5pm – 9pm. Join shop owners Cara and Simi along with The Source’s Hadley Kemp for this Champagne and caviar pure drinking-and-eating event. Among many other fabulous bubbles, Hadley will pour some from us, including Charlot-Tanneux, Pascal Ponson and Thierry Richoux. Call for a seat at (415) 913-7256 Saturday, December 17th, Pico at The Los Alamos General Store Bubble Bash- Champagne & Sparkling Wine Tasting from 2pm – 5pm. The Source’s Santa Barbara representative, Leigh Readey, will be pouring at their outdoor tasting event in the Pico Garden and chef Cameron is splurging on caviar and oysters. $40 per person, tickets available for purchase at https://www. exploretock.com/picolosalamos/event/377637/bubble-bash New Arrivals The short list of arrivals not covered here in depth are the new releases from Wasenhaus and a reload on Artuke’s entry level ARTUKE Rioja and their insane value for such a serious Rioja, Pies Negros. Further along I go deep on two new producers, Champagne’s Pascal Mazet, and Abruzzo’s CantinArte. And included is an overview of Arnaud Lambert’s newest arrivals (too many good things there, so it’s a little lengthy), along with Dave Fletcher’s non-Nebbiolos. New Producer Pascal Mazet, Champagne Thirty hours in Champagne is not enough time. I made stops exactly one week ago to Elise Dechannes in Les Riceys, and a new project in Les Riceys we’ll be starting with in the spring, Taisne-Riocour (a true linguistic challenge to pronounce properly in French), as well as Pascal Mazet in Montagne de Reims, before I jotted off to my hotel at Charles de Gaulle. I am as completely smitten with the Pascal Mazet wines as I was with Elise Dechannes’ the first time I tasted them, though the style is very different from Elise’s Pinot Noir-based Champagnes. Mazet's is the land where Pinot Meunier leads the pack. The lovely and humble Catherine and constantly smiling Pascal Mazet established their domaine in 1981 with 2.5 hectares from her side of the family—enviable holdings in premier cru land on the Montagne de Reims communes Chigny-les-Roses and Ludes, and a grand cru parcel in Ambonnay. Even with such scant vineyard land, Pascal and his third son, Olivier, keep it interesting with six very different wines, soon to be only five. Most of the vineyards are gentle slopes facing southeast at 150m altitude with chalk bedrock alternating with calcareous sands and clay topsoil. They’re easy to spot: green jungle patches amid neighboring vineyards growing on desolate soil. Little by little the Mazets improved their work. The purchase of a Willmes press in the 1990s gently increased the juice yield while reducing gross lees extraction at half the pressure of other presses. Organic conversion started in 2009 and was certified in 2012. Defining elements of their style are fermenting and aging in 225-liter barrels (of at least 15 years old) for eleven to fifteen months and their NV cuvées blended with wine from their 5000-liter “solera” foudre (continuously topped each year with new wine since 1981), followed by extensive lees aging in bottle—a minimum of six years, but often eight. The blends with the solera, Nature and Unique, are bottled only in particular vintages. If the wine needs dosage (to their taste), it is labeled as Unique, if no dosage, it’s Nature—each vintage is one cuvée only, and not the other; for example, 2013 and 2015 are Nature, 2014 is Unique. Dosage of all the wines is decided on taste and wine profile of the vintage. “Scraping,” rather than tilling, is done with a very small tractor (lighter than one ton) to manage superficial grasses and weeds rather than deep gouging that can destroy deeply embedded flora and fauna habitats. While not interested in fully pursuing biodynamic practice, some similar concepts and treatments are employed, like plant infusions for vineyard treatments made from nettle, horsetail, yarrow, dandelion and consoude (known as Symphytum in English), a flower with a multitude of medical uses for animals (including humans!) as well as plants. Pascal (left) and Olivier Mazet At age of twenty-seven, Olivier Mazet took full control in 2018 after completing his university studies in 2014 with an engineering degree specialized in viticulture and enology from the Ecole Supérieur d’Agriculture, in Angers. Olivier’s long view is focused on agroforestry to improve biodiversity in and around the vineyards to help their resilience against disease, improve soil structures by letting nature do a lot of the work—with its billions of years of experience and knowledge—and to try to better cover their viticultural carbon footprint. Olivier’s older brother, Baptiste, also joined the team in 2020. The vineyard collection is about 1.3 hectares (3.2 acres) of Pinot Meunier, 46 ares (0.46 hectare) of Chardonnay, and 23 ares of Pinot Noir, all with an average age of forty years (2022), and 22 of sixty-year-old Pinot Blanc. The yield from their 8000-10000 vines per hectare (similar to Burgundy) in a normal year is around 55hl/ha. Mazet’s solera foudre is a singular experience. I asked Olivier for a taste of it during our first visit together. He looked to Pascal, who seemed surprised by the request, but he agreed to fill a small bottle to taste. When out of the room, Olivier raised his eyebrows, smiled, and said “It’s very unusual that he lets anyone taste from the foudre.” Over the years I’ve often thrown out the descriptor for extremely minerally wines that, “they taste like liquid rock!” This wine was a recalibration of that description in that I would say it was equally rock and metal. It truly was like tasting liquid rock and metal, almost no fruit at all—purely elemental. Never in my entire career have I had a wine so specific as that. What surprised me the most was how unoxidized it was and the purity of color, like looking through the prism of a diamond, the flickering reflection of the sun off the glistening sea. Its taste I will never forget and will always recognize in the mix of Nature, Unique and Originel, the wines to get dosed with this vinous nitrous oxide. The foudre “Nature” comes from all of their parcels and is a blend of 45% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. 60% is 2013 vintage wine while the remainder is from their single 50hl “solera” foudre, with zero dosage. “Unique” mirrors “Nature,” though it comes from an entirely different vintage base wine, as mentioned earlier. The grape mix is the same, as is the amount of vintage wine, this case from 2014, while the remainder is from their single 50hl “solera” foudre, with 4g/L dosage. “Originel” is composed of 35% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Blanc, and 15% each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, all from two different plots: Chardonnay from “Les Sentiers” on chalk and clay, and Pinot Blanc from chalk and sand (with correspondingly earlier ripening) of “La Pruches d’en Haut,” an originel plot that was listed as a terroir of Champagne before the 1800s. 60% of this wine is from 2013 and 40% from the “solera” foudre, with 3g/L dosage. “Millésime,” as the name suggests, is Mazet’s vintage Champagne. The 2015 is a blend of all the different parcels with a mix of 45% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. It’s aged exclusively in 225-liter French oak casks of at least 15 years old, with zero dosage. CantinArte, Abruzzo I will be the first to admit I am not an expert in Italian wines, despite working in and visiting Italian producers regularly since 2004 and a one-year residence in Campania; it’s a country hard to master if it’s not your main focus. I improve every year but the depth of this peninsula and its islands and mountains can be overwhelming. Abruzzo, for one, is a region I haven’t even tried to wrap my head around (though I don’t have the time yet to dig in like I’d like to) because of its vast expanse and my lack of I’ve been to Abruzzo twice, and other Italian wine regions like Piemonte thirty, if not forty times. I have a grip but still feel like an advanced amateur in Piemonte, so you can imagine how I feel about Abruzzo. I can talk about a few of the big names in Abruzzo and their unique styles (and complain about their strangely high prices), but I can’t speak about the appellation as a whole—maybe only on a flashcard level. For this reason I’m glad that our new Abruzzo producer CantinArte (which I competitively tasted among other wines in the region to figure out if they truly were a stylistic match for us in taste and philosophy, before opting in) has their own small section of Montepulciano grapes in Bucchianico, in the Province of Chieti. It’s about ten kilometers from the Adriatic on a soft sloping southeast exposition (a preferential direction for freshness!) on deep clay topsoil, which is helpful to mitigate arid weather through good water retention. Plus, it’s in the middle of nowhere high up in the mountains with mainland Italy’s most consistently clean air (a unique fact), with no one else nearby. While Francesca Di Nosio’s husband Diego Gasbarri developed his career as an engineer with a degree in Environmental Engineering (an expertise quite useful for their organic vineyards and olive tree groves) and built his small company from scratch in Civil engineering, she was bitten by the wine bug in her teenage years. Her first inspiration was her grandparents, who made wine only for the family’s consumption. Her studies in university were initially focused on Latin and Ancient Greek, and later Marketing and Communication, but a trip in her teenage years to UC Davis in 1988 with her father sparked an interest in winegrowing that eventually grew into a spiritual and cultural bonfire. Eventually she went to France to work in vineyards around Lyon and then a year at the biodynamic Chianti Classico cantina, Querciabella. During her time in Greve in Chianti, she became convinced of her future in wine and went home to start CantinArte with the Montepulciano vineyards her grandparents planted in the 1970s. Francesca Di Nosio, CantinArte Curious about all things, Francesca loves most her connection with people, the talks about culture and wine and food. A mother of two, she remains a complete romantic overflowing with hospitality and kindness and gushing with an eagerness to please. (Anyone would laugh if they heard some of the enthusiastic and fun voice messages I’ve received from her over the last two years.) When asked what she would like for people to feel about her wines, the take away after mentions of mineral freshness and uniqueness was that she wants people to feel their joy. What else? CantinArte’s 740m white wine vineyards The vineyard project high up in the mountains where they’ve planted Pecorino and Pinot Grigio are in Diego’s familial neighborhood, Navelli, a gorgeous old rock village in the Provincia dell’Aquila, an hour drive up into the mountains from the Adriatic to a completely different setting from their Montepulciano vineyards. These new vineyards (first vintages bottled 2021 for both varieties) are at an unusually high altitude for Abruzzo viticulture at 740m (~2,400ft). At first, they thought maybe it was a gamble to go so high, but the results are beyond promising. This place is perfectly suited for these white varieties with a bedrock and topsoil that have an uncanny resemblance to those of the Côte d’Or (a place I’ve dug around in for years): fractured, stark white limestone rocks from a different geological age mixed with reddish-brown clay atop limestone bedrock. They are some of the most striking examples of both varieties I’ve had, and not surprisingly unique with their tense, mountain acidity and even some petillance in the 2021 Pinot Grigio IGT Terre Aquilane “Colori” that gives it extra charge. I remain perplexed by this Pinot Grigio (not only for its bubbles) with its vinous capture of clean mountain air, sweet green herbs, sweet lime and green melon fruit. I’m constantly surprised when I think about this wine (often) and what they did differently than others, outside of spontaneous ferments, low total SO2 (less than 60ppm), and organic farming at super high altitude. I know, Ted Vance, the perpetual wine sales guy, now waxing lyrically about Pinot Grigio? Don’t write it off so easily. This stuff is different, and I guess one shouldn’t summarily dismiss any grapes from the Pinot family when they are done in a serious way! Though the Pinot Grigio is captivating, most will likely go for the 2021 Pecorino IGT Terre Aquilane “Colori,” not only because it is a more classical variety from these parts, but also because it is likely viewed as more complex. High altitude Pecorino works, and the biotypes Diego selected for the plantation originate from northern Abruzzo at very high altitudes— mostly in territories without much commercial production but rather from families who produce for themselves. Here, the brine of the sea in the wine is exchanged for a cold mountain, herb-filled aromatic breeze. This variety seems to have a natural salinity anyway, so you won’t miss much there. The difference between here and 400m down and closer to the sea is that the mountain wines will have a little less oxidation, higher pH levels (3.10-3.15 for both Pinot Grigio and Pecorino), more angles than curves, pungent rocky mineral impressions due to the rockier soil with little topsoil, and the effects of a massive diurnal shift at the high altitude—summer days around 35C (95°F) drop to 16°C (60°F) at night—and without the big spice rack imposed by more heat and solar power closer to the sea at lower altitudes. This white wine project seems to be Diego’s thing more than Francesca’s—it’s his home turf while closer to the sea is hers—and his new Pecorino experiment out of amphora I tasted a little over a month ago caught me with my jaw on the floor, yet again. I can’t wait to see if that one gets into bottle in the same shape it is in amphora! Diego Gasbarri, CantinArte CantinArte’s two parcels of Montepulciano in Bucchianico sit around 300m (~1000ft) and were planted in the mid-seventies, with another part in the early 2010s by Francesca and Diego. The younger vines are used for the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo and the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Ode” and the older vines for their Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Rosso Puro. I admit that my greater initial personal interest in Abruzzo was to find a mesmerizing Cerasuolo rather than an Abruzzo red or white. I’ve had a few Cerasuolo from names that most in the trade know well but can rarely find—let alone afford—that give me a stir while others can be a lot of fun to drink, but most are innocuous wines. I find that the most compelling reds and whites of Abruzzo are so often crafted in such an individual way at very specific cantinas under the direction of uniquely special people that it was hard to imagine finding another inspiring standalone superstar in a sea of Trebbiano and Montepulciano. My interactions with CantinArte’s Cerasuolos, like the 2020 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, and the 2019 before it, hit the mark. I also found that in classical style for this category with high quality producers that they are quiet and tucked in upon opening (the best often need decanting to get past too much gas, and, well, we don’t have all day when we’re ready to drink rosé, right?) which is further exacerbated by a cold serving temperature straight out of the fridge. But with some time open, the structure of this twenty-four-hour skin maceration concedes its authority in CantinArte’s Cerasuolo to fresh red spring fruits and the joy Francesca wants us to experience. It’s a wonderful wine when it hits its stride (half an hour after opening) and maintains a very focused direction. A perfect Sunday lunch wine served at a red wine temperature, it will bloom with the promise of spring into a leafless autumn afternoon meal with good company. Today being Thanksgiving (at least as I write this segment on a dreary, rain-filled Portuguese morning), my mind screams, “Everyone knows that Beaujolais is a fabulous match for today’s traditional fare, but bring on the Cerasuolo!” It’s made in a straightforward way in steel tanks and with grapes organically farmed close to the sea at 300m on clay, facing southeast. The 2019 was a very good but the 2020 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Ode” may even be better. My first interaction with these fully destemmed reds on day one was very good but the second day was always another level for both—first day expected, the second a good surprise for a variety that often seems to put all the cards on the table in short order. Its freshness afterburner (even more so than the first day) demonstrates how picking is prioritized on the earlier side in the season along with rigorous sorting. For these reasons, they show little to no sense of desiccation or brown notes in the spectrum of fruit (a concern for me with young wines from these sunny parts), just a minerally, cool and refreshing palate texture, and ethereal aromatic qualities on top of its natural savory earthiness. Ode is more of a straightforward approach with stainless steel fermenting (10-12 days) and aging (12 months) and is void of tweaks that make it feel heavy-handed, using unique techniques rather than relying on excellent and conscious organic farming with an environmental engineer’s eye for detail. And of course, the joy of the family behind it. The 2010 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Rosso Puro” comes from the vineyard of Francesca’s grandparents planted in the 1970s. Since the beginning, even prior to the organic certification in 2014, only copper and sulfur were sprayed in the vines when she first started. Francesca says that the main difference in the vineyard is the evolution of the yeasts from the vineyards without any synthetic treatments. As mentioned, this wine is grown on clay on a southeast face, and was destemmed during its three-week fermentation/maceration and raised for three years in no new oak, instead with some first year and mostly older used French oak barrels. This southeast face is key for the freshness of both reds and their Cerasuolo. Though Rosso Puro is one year short of being a teenager, it’s in its middle age, its prime, and perfect now. It’s a good introduction to southern-Italian wine style—even though it’s from the center of Italy—with reminiscent notes similar to aged Aglianico in Taurasi, minus the thick-boned structure. There is very little of this wine available and we expect the 2013 to arrive with our next order. Arnaud Lambert, Loire Valley There are few who candidly share their process with me as much as Arnaud Lambert does, and I had yet another great visit with him a few weeks ago. Perpetually on the move, he always has something new to share about his progress. We had lunch in Saumur at Bistro de la Place in the center of town. It was cold and drizzly. Perfect for a lunch of foie gras and trotters—my usual “light” fare in France; it really is hard for me to stick with “clean” eating in that country. Arnaud asked me to pick the wine and I was pleasantly surprised to see a bottle of 2018 Domaine de la Vallée Moray’s Montlouis “Aubépin,” a wine and producer unfamiliar to Arnaud, furthermore quite unfamiliar in the world as of now, though that won’t last. The sommelier perked up when I named the wine. He came back and poured. I said nothing, just waited. Arnaud took his time, eyes in contemplation, swirling the glass, then sloshing the wine around in his mouth. It was a very impressive first glass (which means the second will be even better!) and I knew he was taken long before he said anything. He commented how remarkable it was for 2018, a difficult vintage with depth and stuffing, which this wine has in spades. During my previous visit with Arnaud, Romain Guiberteau and Brendan Stater-West, I talked about the new producers I’m starting to work with in Montlouis, including Vallée Moray. I was happy to share this bottle. Hopefully Arnaud will come with me to Montlouis on my next trip to meet Hervé Grenier, the humble master who crafted this gorgeously deep Chenin Blanc, among other unexpectedly fabulous and authentic vinous creations. Hervé’s wines will be on offer in January, though the quantities are painfully small. Chenin Blanc Everyone’s lucky to have access to this bigtime lineup from Arnaud. It’s serious juice from recent vintages that he feels have moved well into the direction he’s pursued since his start, tweaking and experimenting along the way to find this specific line. Oak decisions on Chenin Blanc are milder than the recent years—a conversation we’ve had regularly. The previous years were good, and often great, but sometimes time is needed to punch through the oak when the wines are young. Eventually they make it through but perhaps at a cost of some delicate nuances. One thing I’ve noticed with the Saumur wines we work with is that there is often a lot of intensity and vibration rather than rhythmic melody. Arnaud has doggedly sought and seemingly found his tune, a taming of the shivering intensity of this area of Saumur, highlighting the vinous quality often left behind or beat down by the wood in its youth. The innocence of Midi always stood as the north star to his range of Chenin for me, with its crystalline purity, captured joy, and echoes of Arnaud’s deeply hued and thoughtful Belgian bluestone eyes. There are a few goodies arriving from Arnaud’s entry-level Chenin spectrum. 2021 Clos de Midi is more than just a good opener for the range. This year is second to none compared to every young wine I’ve had from this vineyard in the middle (midi) of the slope. I asked Arnaud for more entry-level white, and while it’s almost impossible to increase the quantity of Clos de Midi, he proposed his 2021 St. Cyr en Bourg Chenin Blanc. This all comes from his organic parcels in St. Cyr en Bourg (home to Coulee de St. Cyr and Les Perrieres, just across the way from Brézé), and is made the same as Clos de Midi, in stainless steel. You can’t go wrong with any of Arnaud’s 2021s. The triumphant trio of Chenin Blanc starts at the blocks with 2020 Clos David, a straight shooter and in all ways minerally and rocky, followed by the powerful and usually slow to evolve (though this year is a little more extroverted than years past) 2019 Brézé grown in deeper clay soils atop tuffeau bedrock, all anchored by the 2019 Clos de la Rue. Each is worthy of any serious wine program, though the Brézé is extremely limited. 2019 is likely the best bottling of this wine I’ve had (when young), but Clos de la Rue remains king for me year in and year out after tasting these wines since the 2009 vintage—the Brézé cuvée first bottling was 2014. Seemingly without limits in evolution and a constant rediscovery from one glass to the next, Clos de la Rue is poised with balance and deep core strength. Though Clos David is the bargain cru at the price, and Brézé the muscular unicorn with only two barrels made, Clos de la Rue is the must-have in the lineup. Cabernet Franc Arnaud is in perpetual internal war over his reds. I’ve often pushed for Clos Mazurique to be the guiding light: matter over mind, and hand. Over the years Arnaud reduced his extractions, starting in 2012 with fewer than one movement each day down from three during fermentation—a good decision and still upheld though with even fewer now, only around three vigorous movements for the entire length of fermentation and extended maceration. Next was zero sulfiting until after malolactic fermentation, which turned out to be far less risky than expected. (All one must do is go into his freezing barrel room to know that almost nothing will grow in those wines, only the most resilient of cellar molds on the outside of barrels and the tuffeau rock walls and ceiling.) Eventually that evolved into a solitary addition only at bottling with not a milligram before. The total sulfite levels today are around 25ppm (25mg/L). Both steps were crucial in his evolution. Most recently, however, is the approach on new wood with less is more. This step is more recent, but if there were ever a vintage to digest the new oak entirely, it would be 2019. It also helps that the top red wines, Clos Moleton and Clos de l’Etoile, with about 30% new oak, were in those same barrels for thirty months to eventually shed most of the undesired wood nuances and wood tannins. Considering the pH levels of these wines, they will never flaunt the wood as other higher pH varieties. I don’t really know why that is, but I’ve observed it, as have many other winegrowers. Newer wood tames, manicures, and sculpts. All good things with Bordeaux and Burgundy, I guess, but not for me with Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. In some ways, newer wood forces manners and etiquette, though I find the nature of Cabernet Franc to be earth-led, with sunlight, spring flowers and spring fruits, a little bit of untamed beast, and maybe even a little solemnity. It’s not at all a confectionary variety with a party personality, so I don’t find that it melds well with sweet, vanilla, toasty, resiny, smoky new wood on it. New wood often neuters Cabernet Franc’s most alluring attributes (as it does other wines), trading out the wild forest, underbrush, and wild animal for stately statue gardens and their regularly trimmed shrubbery. The style works anyway with Cabernet Franc caught somewhere between Burgundy, Bordeaux and the overly polished and utterly boring (again, neutered!) versions of new-wood Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Indeed, Saumur rouge and Saumur-Champigny are not the Northern Rhône Valley’s rustic, burly, salty, meaty, bloody, metal, minerally type—though that is what I often want it to lean more toward, though only toward, without succumbing entirely. I think most of us have a good idea of what would happen if one goes full Tarzan with Cabernet Franc. And this variety isn’t Red Burgundy: celebrated, predictable, still exciting (sometimes when young, but mostly with older wines from cooler years), but rarely unexpected, even when the very best show their might, excluding producers like Mugnier, and Leroy (may she live forever, though I can no longer afford or justify the cost to drink anything adorned with her name and crown.) Can these overly crafted wines be a little too good? Like Tom Brady-too-good? So much so that you don’t want it anymore? That you should root for someone else? An underdog such as a Cabernet Franc? I find that Saumur and Saumur-Champigny are often a reflection of its residents, their good manners, happiness and generosity, their contained, clean and well-dressed but slightly casual presentation and warmth; it’s only the weather that brings the chill here, not usually the people. I almost moved to Saumur. I love the place; its gorgeous tuffeau off-white castles and even its simplest tuffeau structures and barns. It’s easy to navigate in the city, much of which was rebuilt after World War II, though not as badly damaged as other Loire Valley cities like Tours. I always feel safe in greater Anjou and Touraine. I don’t mean only from a physical safety perspective but rather that I never feel rushed, like I’m not going to get run over, harassed, or impatiently talked to when my French isn’t on point. Maybe the soft rolling hills and the serenity of the river soften them. Maybe it’s that they lost too many people and things during WWII, which forced a lot of familial and city reconstruction that made them humbler than some other French wine regions? I feel Arnaud continues to move closer to embracing the earthen, well-dressed beast Cabernet Franc can be, despite his reference points and training in Beaune and seeming desire to be closer to a Burgundy wine in overall effect. It’s not a bad objective to want to walk beside Burgundy, though I’m still confused even when I use the term “Burgundian” to try to bring understanding to the style of a non-Burgundy wine. I think I used to know better what I meant by it. Cabernet Franc from Saumur and Saumur-Champigny somehow expresses its dark clay and rocky limestone topsoil and tuffeau bedrock. In the best examples it seems like they drop the clusters on the vineyard ground, toss in some aromatic brush and herbs, wild berries, mash it up a little and then throw them into fermentation bins with the grapes, thereby collecting all that earthy and wilderness nuance. That’s where I see Arnaud going in overall profile, and I do hope that’s where he ends up. Cabernet Franc is an easy grape in many ways when good table wine is what’s wanted, but despite its agreeability its inspiring renditions only come from top sites grown by top minds and hard workers. Farming is crucial and the wines need to be left alone in the cellar to sort themselves out and be put to bottle without much of a mark of ego, neglect, bad taste, or indecision. Intention with Cabernet Franc is crucial. Epic never happens here by accident. Leading off the red range are Arnaud’s two impossible not to like wines (if you have taste for Loire Valley Cabernet Franc!): the 2021 Saumur-Champigny Les Terres Rouges and 2021 Saumur Clos Mazurique. Here you will find Arnaud’s best red wines that have ever borne these labels, no doubt about it. I said it while tasting with Arnaud a few weeks ago, and he agreed. He explained that he found a new way! (As he always does every single year.) They are gorgeous and follow a line of truth for this variety expressing the purity of their terroirs through simple, more-thought-and-less-action winemaking, all a concession to the organic farming (started in 2010) and the need to work with the vine’s nature instead of against it. I shouldn’t spend so much time on them because despite a good number of cases of each arriving, all of them already have a devout following in our supply chain and they’re all expecting their usual share. Perhaps these two reds, like Clos de Midi, are now out of most by-the-glass ranges, but for the price sensitive section of the wine list’s bottle selection, they will be stars for those who are still concerned about the tally on the bill in the face of an increasingly more expensive world. Comparing the hills of Brézé and Saint-Cyr through the lens of Arnaud’s wines is a testament to the validity of terroir. The hills more or less look the same in shape, though Brézé is far more attractive with its forest cap and the famous Chateau de Brézé’s ancient tuffeau limestone walls encircling it like a crown, compared to Saint-Cyr’s slope capped off with the industrial Saumur winery co-op on top, which Arnaud’s grandfather helped establish. The big difference between them is that Saint-Cyr could be described as more homogenous in soil structure with a lot of clay topsoil on most vineyards, while Brézé is a patchwork of many different topsoil structures ranging from almost pure calcareous sand (Clos David), sandy loam (Clos Mazurique, Clos Tue Loup, top section of Clos de l’Etoile), clayey loam (Clos de la Rue), and clay (Brézé cuvée, and bottom section of Clos de l’Etoile). Both hills have tuffeau bedrock and most of the Cabernet Franc parcels have deeper clay topsoil atop the roche-mère. Think of clay-rich sites as a George Foreman-like wine, clay-loam as Muhammad Ali, and sand as Oscar de la Hoya. The pity of this lineup of reds is the missing comparative between Brézé’s Clos du Tue Loup and Saint-Cyr’s Montée des Roches (gravelly loam), the latter of which is not on this boat. Arnaud’s 2020 Saumur “Clos Tue Loup” was raised in only older barrels for a little over a year. I’ve always loved this wine for its higher tones, deep red fruit and cool mineral palate. It embodies what I love the most from this hill and the balance of power. The big hitters, 2019 Saumur-Champigny “Clos Moleton” (Saint-Cyr) and 2019 Saumur “Clos de l’Etoile” (Brézé) are clear demonstrations of somewhat subtle terroir differences that make quite an impact on the final wines. Same bedrock but different topsoil. As mentioned, Clos de l’Etoile has two different soil structures. The upper section is sandy loam and the lower section, clay. This combo makes a wine with great structure but also a little more lift than its near twin on the other hill. By contrast, Clos Moleton is atop a big slab of clay. Like Foreman, it’s formidable, methodical, powerful, intense, with a little chub and a fun personality, especially with more age. L’Etoile is a heavyweight, no doubt, but much faster hand and foot speed and equipped with a silver tongue: Ali. 2019 is one of Arnaud’s greatest achievements in red which makes the miniscule quantities of these two powerhouse reds unfortunate. When you pull the cork do it for a table of two (for sommeliers) or at home with a good friend and a nice long conversation, rather than at a party. Evolution is key here and these heavyweights need twelve rounds in the glass to put on the full show. Fletcher, Barbaresco (Non-Barbaresco wines) Holding up the rear of this newsletter (the caboose, if you will) is the Aussie expat living in what was once the Barbaresco train station, Dave Fletcher. The difference between Dave and many other foreigners making wine in Langhe is that he works a tiny, one- man operation with a little help only when he really needs it, unlike the millionaires buying all vineyards that are on the market for double the previous year’s going rate. His day job since 2009 has been at Ceretto, working as a cellar hand where he eventually became their full time winemaker, pushing organic and then biodynamic farming on them, with great success as they are now under both cultures. I finally visited Ceretto on this last trip in mid-November and I cannot believe the style change he helped instill. The wines now are crystalline, bright, aromatic, almost no new wood (around 50% new when he started but now less than 10%), and graceful, like Vietti’s new style. Dave’s renditions of Barbaresco under the Fletcher label are the real deal. They’re not from big botte because he doesn’t have the volume from any Barbaresco cru to fill one because there are only about fifty or so cases of each made. He’s a real garagiste, or I guess I could say stationiste because he lives in and ages his Barbarescos (in the underground cellar) in the train station he and his wife, Elenora, bought and renovated. I love being in that building, where they did their best to preserve the layout on the first floor, ticket window and all. It’s easy to imagine it filled with Italians traveling away from their home in these hills to Turin for work, after having abandoned their multi-generational vineyards to enter manufacturing jobs just to survive. It was a sad time then and the Langhe was the poorest area in all of Italy after WWII. Things have changed. Despite its current overflow of riches, the vast majority of the Piemontese still carry on many generations of humility, warmth and comradery. It remains for me my spiritual Italian homeland. Dave has pushed his Chardonnay on me for years. They were always good and often I didn’t let him know it because even though I liked them I thought our customer base would think, “Aussie Langhe Chardonnay? Wtf, Ted?”, when Aussie Barbaresco was a tough sell to begin with. I was convinced that Chardonnay might turn the Piemontese traditionalist buyers off from his Nebbiolo wines. I’ve come to realize that that was just me standing in the way, with good intentions of course, to protect and help build Dave’s traditional Piemontese style wines in the market first before letting in his irrepressible Down Under. Dave’s 2021 Chardonnay C21 exemplifies what he’s capable of and his New World versatility and open mind. He’s proud of this wine, and he should be. He loves Burgundy, and he’s followed its stylistic line with his vineyard planted on extremely high pH limestone soils (though here its sandy topsoil compared to Burgundy’s clay), his early picks to preserve tension (this vintage August 21, but he says this is the new norm) and prefers grapes without much direct sun contact—more green than golden. It’s Burgundian in style in that its 30% new oak and the rest in older oak casks. If one were to serve it blind—things we only do with non-Burgundy Chardonnays to try to fool each other into thinking its a Burgundy—especially after it was open for thirty minutes with a little bit of aeration in the glass before my first sniff and taste, I may have a hard time going away from Burgundy, though probably not within the Côte de Beaune. It’s not really New Worldy (mostly because of the similar calcium carbonate influence as Burgundy) but rather somewhere between the style of PYCM–though a little tighter and not fluffed up–and JC Ramonet, but less toasty and lactic. Perhaps its softer textural grip would give it away and take you right back to the Langhe, but I doubt it, unless you know well Langhe Chardonnay. It’s a good wine indeed, especially at its fair price for this category and quality. Definitely worth a look for those craving that fairy dust that’s so hard to find outside of Burgundy’s Chardonnay wines. Orange wine is in, and Dave’s 2021 Arcato is a dandy. He prides himself on craft and he’s sharp on technical tastings, so you kind of know what you’re getting here when you mix early picked 75% Arneis destemmed and crushed, and 25% Moscato whole cluster fermented and macerated, and a final alcohol of 11.8%, labeled 12. It’s a very technically sound wine from a classical point of view, but it’s also delicious and intriguing, a joy to drink. I like it a lot. Not so quirky, just well done and with a lot of personality from these two grapes, one on the neutral and understated side and the other more flamboyant and abundantly aromatic as a still wine. He also nailed the label for this fun wine category—a retailer’s dream etichetta for this category. I’ve been a fan since my first taste of Dave’s Barbera d’Alba made with partial whole clusters. His new rendition, the 2021 Barbera d’Alba comes from a vineyard in Alba with sixty-year- old vines. He said he had to do a lot of sorting because of Barbera’s soft skins, which tend to shrivel a little more than other regional red grapes. The 2021 shows a little bit more mature development on the red fruit due to the heat spike, and he intends to do two picks in the future because of the variability of maturity on the vines. This is delicious stuff and a fun reboot for this ubiquitous Piemontese grape with southern Italian origins.
The rise of Arnaud Lambert is no surprise. Since our first meeting in 2010 at his home in Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg, a dozen or more kilometers south of the Loire River, this unknown vigneron’s potential was obvious—not only with what skills he already possessed, but how clear it was that he would sharpen them and grow into the spectacular talent he has become. Every vintage seems to eclipse the previous, and with some of the most gifted Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc vineyards in the Loire Valley, he’s only getting started. What’s most incredible about Arnaud is his ability to churn out such quality with nearly twenty different cuvées rendered from more than forty hectares of vineyards; although this is a lot, all of his wines seem like they’ve come from a domaine with no more than five hectares. His wines are spectacularly etched jewels, short on pretension and confection, and long on harmonious depth and purity. Everything from his entry-level reds (Les Terres Rouge and Clos Mazurique) and whites (Les Perrieres and Clos de Midi) is astounding, and the upper class of the range developed for more time in the cellar are striking and warrant exploration for any serious Loire Valley wine enthusiast.
Source Exclusive Lambert Chenin Blancs, Bonne Nouvelle & Montsoreau
Before the 2014 vintage, I suggested Arnaud begin to isolate the most interesting parcels of Chenin Blanc that haven’t yet been made into single cru wines to explore for new and previously overlooked talented parcels. The plan was to make two barrels from each site, observe and taste them through their élevage, and if we were both pleased with the results, I guaranteed that I’d buy and sell them in California. There are four in total: the first was in 2014 and bottled under Domaine de St. Just, simply labeled Brézé, followed by a barrel-aged Clos du Midi bottled only in magnums, and finally we have today's Bonne Nouvelle and Montsoreau which in 2016, their first vintage, were a great success. There are only two barrels of each of these wines made for the entire world and all the wines are in California. The Wines Lambert’s vineyard area in Montsoreau is largely planted up on a plateau that sits above the Loire River on flatter sites with deeper clay composition—often between sixty centimeters to a couple meters deep, preferential topsoil depth and composition for Cabernet Franc. There is also a special, nearly pure tuffeau limestone site within his familial Montsoreau vineyards with almost no topsoil from which he makes this superb Chenin Blanc. While inside the Saumur-Champigny appellation, to bear the appellation name “Saumur-Champigny” a wine must be made exclusively from Cabernet Franc, and it’s for this reason that this wine is labeled as a Saumur appellation wine. Arnaud’s Montsoreau Chenin Blanc is a wine with more opulence and flash than usual. Balanced out by a dense core and somewhat gently polished square edges, when compared to Lambert's white wines from further south of the appellation in the colder zones, like Brézé and Saint-Cyr, the Montsoreau is more upfront and rich in body. Aged similarly to Bonne Nouvelle, in order to preserve the voice of the vineyard terroir, it’s aged one year, in two 228-liter old French oak barrels. Like the Bonne Nouvelle in quantity, there are only roughly five hundred bottles produced for the entire world. Rarities? Indeed. Bonne Nouvelle comes from the now famous Saumur commune, Brézé. The topsoil here in this commune varies greatly, even within sections of the same clos (enclosed vineyard), but the bedrock is tuffeau limestone, a sandy, very porous white rock. Generally speaking, Arnaud’s Chenin Blanc sites on Brézé have a larger mixture of sand and clay than the Cabernet Franc sites, which prosper more from deeper clay topsoil with less sand. The sandy soils of Brézé render white wines with more high tones and the wines tend to demonstrate a strong lead of polished and straightforward mineral impressions with less quirky characteristics than many other Chenin Blanc grown in the Loire Valley. In French, Bonne Nouvelle means good news—a suitable name for this wine. Originally this single clos on Brézé was used for sweet wines, and in 2016 Arnaud committed to our experiment of making a still wine from the vineyard, and we’re so glad he did! The vineyard is just next to Arnaud’s top Cabernet Franc vineyard, Clos de L’Etoile, and is on a uniquely coarse, rich, deep orangish-tan limestone sand derived mostly from small seashell fragments and the underlying tuffeau; interestingly, it looks a lot like the topsoil composition of Château Rayas. The result is a white wine of aromatic lift, deep texture and savory characteristics. As with Montsoreau, there were only two barrels made (roughly forty-five cases) and all are sold exclusively to The Source.
Clay and Sand Comparison between Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc (from our May Wine Club)
The May edition of the Inside Source Club, featured bottles from one of our true heroes of wine, Arnaud Lambert. It’s difficult to write about Arnaud without eliciting chuckles, because after just a few words one begins to sound ridiculous. He’s young. He’s talented. He’s hardworking. Thoughtful. Focused. Studious. Committed. Charming. You get the picture. Seriously, the guy is a dream, and we at The Source feel incredibly fortunate to be working with him. Oh, and, as you’ll taste, his wines are knockouts too. Though all the wines in May’s shipment come from the hand of Arnaud, the theme wasn't to showcase the hand of the winemaker. It was to talk about terroir, specifically how limestone expression is mediated by the presence of sand and clay. Indeed, we can approach Arnaud’s winemaking here as a control factor, an element we can now remove from the equation to better examine the differences in terroir between a handful of sites. But first, let’s complete the portrait of Arnaud, because he’s someone you should know. In 1996 Arnaud’s father Yves, a banker, began Domaine de Saint-Just in the Saumur region of the Loire (more on this below). Freshly returned from winemaking studies in Bordeaux, Arnaud joined him in 2005. They also made a deal with the Comte of the nearby (and spectacular) Château de Brézé to farm his vineyards and market the wine. Hence the two labels you see today, Domaine de Saint-Just and Château de Brézé (one day we hope both labels may be consolidated under one brand). Yves died unexpectedly and tragically in 2011, leaving the estate under the control of Arnaud. Arnaud had already begun the conversion of their vineyards to organic farming in 2009, work he continues today. It’s a long and assiduous process, as the soils in this region had been decimated by fifty years of chemical farming. Only in the last few years has Arnaud begun to see the reappearance of real verve in his soils. Where is Saumur? It’s in the middle Loire, as opposed to the upper Loire to the east (featuring Sancerre) and the lower Loire to the west (featuring Muscadet). While technically attached to the subregion of Anjou, Saumur perhaps has more in common with the nearby western Touraine, whose villages Chinon and Bourgeuil are also famous for red wines, as well as whites. The reds come from Cabernet Franc, the whites from Chenin Blanc. All Arnaud’s wines are grown just a few miles apart, on a vast and massive chalky limestone subsoil, known here as tuffeau. It’s just the top layers that differ. Before we get to the wines specifically, a quick shout out to the vintage. Three brutally difficult years in a row (hail, frost, deluge) and a bad start to 2014 was taking a psychological toll on the region. As importer Jon David Headrick observed in a note: “By the end of this stretch of vintages you could see the stress and strain on the faces of many growers. Many of their neighbors were going out of business. Money was tight. Vacations were cancelled. Prices were raised. The summer of their discontent, to bastardize Shakespeare, was in full swing.” In the 2014 summer, sunny days alternated with rainy ones—a recipe for disaster. Humid, warm weather invites rot, which began to grip the vineyards during July and August. Thankfully, September brought redemption, ushering six weeks of sublime sun that banished the rot, dried the vineyards, and ripened the clusters. The result is a vintage that luxuriates in sun-bathed ripeness, but retains snap thanks to elevated acidities. It drinks well right now, but will even harmonize more over the next several years. Saumur Blanc 2014 Château de Brézé “Clos du Midi” 2014 Domaine de Saint-Just “Les Perrieres” The Loire is lovely region, bucolic and calm, verdant with vineyards, forests, and farmland. It lacks the towering, steep spectacles of places like the Northern Rhone. Indeed, what passes for high altitude in this region are the low-lying hills (which could also be called mounds or hillocks) of Brézé and Saint-Cyr. Just a few miles apart these elevations face each other. Both have been sites of excellent Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc since at least the Middle Ages and probably much longer. Brézé is the more famous and slightly higher of the two in no small part because of the palatial Château that guards one side of it. Both are undergirded with that deep layer of tuffeau. And both feature a wash of different soils that vary between heavier clays and lighter sands deposited via millennia of the Loire floodplains. In the case of these two wines, we wish to demonstrate what difference the amount of clay or sand makes in a limestone-based wine. The Clos du Midi sits high on Brézé as one of the colder sites on the hill. With nearly ten acres in production, it’s a pretty big vineyard, so there is some soil variance, mainly with some clay holding down the bottom of the slope, while the upper slope is mostly sandy in nature. Lurking not far beneath it all is that soft, but dense limestone. You’ll notice the Clos du Midi’s electric acidity and wiry, lean body. Indeed, as Ted wrote in his original note, “When I first tasted this wine, it was like sticking my finger in a light socket!” Sandy terroirs tend to offer great ripeness, but not always much roundness, as the water drains quickly from the ground, leaving little chance for the roots to take it up and feed off the minerals in the soil. In (slight) contrast, check out the Saint-Just “Les Perrieres.” The flavors, which run between dried herbs, tea, apples, and lemons, are not entirely different, but the wine has more body and roundness due to the heavier clay and silt of this vineyard, which also has less slope. The wine is just as delicious, just has a slightly more rounded profile. Both are absolutely delicious and share the common thread of that densely chalky core. The other beautiful thing about both is their amazing versatility with food. Yes, fish and seafood are obvious and excellent matches. But the zippy acidity and sharp flavors will also pair beautifully with the bounty of spring and summer vegetables at your local farmers’ markets right now. Saumur Rouge 2014 Château de Brézé “Clos Tue-Loup” 2014 Domaine de Saint-Just “Montee des Roches” Again, we find ourselves comparing two hills with wines that are almost like siblings, sharing that powerful limestone signature, which in red wine allows for a powerful flavor stamp on top of a structure that’s elegant and complex without being too fleshy. The Cabernet Franc from Brézé is amazing. Raised only in old oak, it shows the large limestone rocks that lurk under the layer of clay at the vineyard. The clay provides the flesh, while the tuffeau gives that ethereal structure which somehow supports that riot of red and blacks fruit flavors. We love the complexity that follows, which range from notes of sweet spring flowers to heavier sensations of wet earth, gravel, and iodine. The terroir of Saint-Cyr’s Montée des Roches is a little different, with less than 20 inches of limestone-derived sand and a little clay before the tuffeau substrate begins. Arnaud works these soils very carefully, removing the superficial roots and encouraging the rest to dig deeper into the limestone, which for this wine they clearly do. It’s like drinking straight from the limestone. We can’t say it better than what Ted wrote, “The wine matches clearly its terroir with an immediately full mouthfeel brought on by the clay soils, followed by a straight, slightly tangy acidic finish from its rocky underbelly. The wine starts with rich dark earth and forest floor, spare in fruit and evolves into a perfectly supple and finely textured Cabernet Franc.” Please enjoy these delicious wines from the magical hills of Saumur and the charmed hand of Arnaud Lambert. Happy drinking! Don't miss next month's Inside Source edition. Join our Wine Club today and receive a 10% off all website purchases for the membership duration.
Josée Vanucci seems every bit Italian as she is French, and her English carries a British accent—what a mix! From the first moment her enologist Emmanuel (Manu) Gagnepain and I met up with her, she abounded with a tireless energy and impressive agility as she moved about her rustic and densely packed cellar, where we had an open and unguarded discourse about her wines and how they are crafted. Risking misinterpretation with someone I didn’t know, I candidly admitted during my first visit with her that while her wines were sophisticated, they also led with an immense amount of pleasure, and that I would be happy to just sit down and drink them by the pitcher because they were so delicious. Lucky for me, she was pleased by the comment and exclaimed that that is exactly the kind of wine she wants to make. Just like her, they are full of life, unpretentious and bring good vibes. (They are serious though, but who cares, when wines like hers represent the charming spirit of the island and are impossible to stop drinking.)
Spain’s Asturian Coast Maybe I’m just imagining it because I’ve been gone for so long, but everyone here in California seems to smile more and is generally more friendly than I remember. Perhaps it’s because I’m so happy to see people out and about, or maybe it’s because I can finally see people’s mouths again! On the other hand, I am sorry to see the prices of everything climbing so much. It’s been two years since I was last in the States, and I didn’t have a personal American pandemic experience, but the changes that have come about since 2019 are incredible; I hope that the quickly rising inflation will be curbed soon and return closer to a more manageable level. We’ll see… Wine News: The good, the bad, and, well, a touch of the rest… The prices of European wines in general haven’t yet seen any unpredictable increases, aside from those caused by the freight woes that have thus far been counterbalanced by the dollar’s increased strength against the euro over the last quarter. We should also expect some shifts given the increased cost of basic materials like bottles, labels, and corks. These are only a few of the factors that might increase prices, which are proportionately negligible for expensive wines, but for wines of lower price points, the differences will be more noticeable and may push some of them up into the next tier; those $20 retail bottles might soon be $23/$24, and the $9.99s might hit $11.99. Thankfully, we’re not there yet. Prices in regions like Burgundy are always on the rise, while most others remain more stable. Burgundy has for many years suffered greatly on many fronts, what with the Côte d’Or’s hailstorms of the early 2010s, the massive heat in 2018, 2019, and 2020, followed by the terribly difficult 2021 vintage yet on another front was cold and wet, a paradise for fungus. The expectation of fresher and tighter wines with lower natural alcohol that are sometimes paler and even harder in their youth are showing signs of possible irreversible change toward a bolder style, despite the efforts of gentler handling and earlier picking. Many regions that are known and counted on for their snappy, fresh wines seem to be hanging on by a thread to their past iterations, and it’s hard to know how long they will be able to hold the line. Continental/Mediterranean climate wine regions furthest from mountains and oceans seem to be suffering the most. Eventually we will have to accept that our expectations for what was and even for what is, at this very moment, will have to shift. Some regions who in the past could barely find market-friendly ripeness in their wines are finding new success, while others seem to be experiencing a very different style of wine than in the past, or are in a concerning and heartbreaking decline. There are a couple of solutions, including the obvious dramatic change in the way humanity goes about its daily life by making the necessary adjustments to curb climate change (which in itself would be a paradoxical goal for a wine importer to fulfill). Another approach, like any other investment, is to explore a greater diversity with our wine choices in search of newly emerging talents in incredible terroirs that have been lost to the economic crisis of generations past, many of whom work toward the goal of environmental preservation. Anyone who has followed us for a while knows that we’ve greatly expanded our European foothold. Our adventures have led us to a wider range of wines outside of France (our traditionally strongest country) and further into Spain, Portugal, Italy, with a dab here and there in Germany and Austria. Wines from the latter three countries were long supplied to us by other importers, whereas today we import them all directly ourselves. New Terroir Map – Trás-os-Montes, Portugal I’m holding onto many geological maps that we’ve finished so we can release them as nice support material for the arrival of new wines from those regions, and this month we have one for our releases from Trás-os-Montes, in the far northeastern region of Portugal. It’s a remote place near the border of Spain to the north and east with gorgeous earth colors from orange to red to even yellow earth, a rainbow of wild shrubs, and a vast open blue or star-pocked sky, framed by rugged and severely-eroded mountains that are now big hills and short mountains, at best, but are thought to have once been as tall as today’s Himalayas. This is an agricultural land with a massive output of olive oil, grapes, vegetables, fruit trees, and animal products. For our growers there, Menina d’uva and Arribas Wine Company, it’s a land endowed with a natural talent for wine from ancient, indigenous vines that often have dozens of names for the same grape variety. It’s a colorful map because this is a land of great geological variety in a very arid landscape. Enjoy it and read further into this newsletter for more about wines arriving this month from our producers in this region. The Best News: Containers are arriving now! Some of our long-awaited new producers are finally touching down after the first batch of enormously delayed containers, along with some wines that are nearly a couple of years late. A few orders on this boat were dispatched more than six months ago! Last month it was Italian arrivals, this month they’re all from France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal. France is the slowest of all countries door-to-door, and our container from France was launched almost two months before the Iberian container, and they’re landing at the same time. Crazy days... Portugal I know of no other producers in the wine world with a greater commitment to finding extraordinary terroirs in the middle of nowhere than our two from Trás-os-Montes: Arribas Wine Company and Menina d’uva. Most winemakers want at least a little contact with inspired restaurant cooking and access to a good market. Here, there is nothing of the sort for hours by car, and these two are even separated by a forty minute drive, even though they rely on each other when they need to borrow winery equipment and materials. I tip my hat to their pursuit, funded solely by their own pocketbooks and a sincere desire to make something special in the isolation of what appears to be a dying wine region. Menina d'uva's "Ciste" Menina d’uva The new arrivals from French transplant with Portuguese heritage, Aline Domigues, under her Menina d’uva label are the same three cuvées that blitzed through our wholesale channels last year. Her white wine, Líquen, is deeply textured (a classic white profile from the top to the bottom of this country) raised in stainless steel and mostly composed of Malvasia, along with a field blend of ancient varieties grown on her area’s mix of metamorphic rocks—various slates, schists and gneiss. Líquen’s characteristic aromas evoke the sense of highland grasslands with dried flora, rock outcroppings, and open blue skies. It’s overtly savory, which makes it ideal for food; in fact, it’s kinda like food, with its attractive aromas of dried pasta, bread dough, and dried herbs and grasses. The fruit is in the white-flesh spectrum, with pear, apple and cherimoya. Texturally, Líquen is a mouthful despite no intentional skin contact outside of a gentle crush by foot prior to pressing. The high amplitude metal and mineral sensations in its youth are palate staining and resonate with a streak of fresh acidity down the center and back into the throat. The finish is lengthy and activates all points on the palate, from the front, sides, middle, and back. Overall, it’s an extremely pleasant wine and its freshness is a welcome surprise from this region known for its weighty, less interesting, white wines. Aline holding a ciste, the image used for her Ciste label. The first red-colored wine in Aline’s range, Ciste, is a mixture of 70% Bastardo Preta (Trousseau, in France and Brancellao in Spain, among its many other names) and Negreda (known in Spain as Mouratón, Tinta Gorda, and Juan Garcia), and 30% white, with Malvasia, Bastardo Branco, Formosa, and others in minuscule amounts. Here in the two villages of these vineyards, Junqueira and Matela, the soil is more clay-rich and alluvial, which makes for a supple wine despite its high aromatic lift, fabulous textures, and unexpected palate weight—it looks like a lightweight but feels like a middleweight. The grapes are completely whole bunch and co-fermented for only four days and aged in stainless steel. The short time on skins is intended to achieve good fruit and floral extraction without digging too far before carbonic characteristics overwhelm the wine. Aline wants to keep this one truer to the expression of the place without using fermentation techniques that push too much fruit and fermentative aromas to the forefront. The first vintage, 2018, was lights-out delicious. The following vintage was the same, and this year should be even better. In its youth, it’s aromatically effusive and bright, and carries the scents of this arid countryside and its moorland brush and sweet, poppy-like aromas. The fruit characteristics are concentrated around reds, oranges and yellows—think wild and snappy-to-the-tooth cherries, pomegranate, and the bright flavor of early fall Fuyu persimmons. Menina d’uva's vineyard that produces her wine, Ciste. Menina d’Uva’s Palomba is made of 90% Negreda, a vine known to produce big, juicy, dark-colored berries but with surprisingly very little tannin. It’s mixed with other red grapes few outside or even inside of Portugal have heard of, like Uva de Rei, Moscatel Preta, Moscatel Roxo, among others. It comes from five different plots located in the villages of Uva, Mora and Vale de Algoso, and is grown on a mixture of schist and quartz scattered about on the surface of the vineyards. However, a walk through many of the plots revealed stone walls made with gneiss, slate, and schist—a clear indicator that it’s not so easy to say precisely what the bedrock is underfoot in the area, even in small parcels. In the cellar, Palomba was about one-third destemmed by hand, the fermentation lasted for two weeks and was gently extracted throughout by foot. Negreda has a tendency for taking on reductive characteristics and often needs more time in the bottle before it’s time to dig in. Aline’s wine, Ciste, by contrast, is off to the races upon opening. The pressure points within Aline’s wines are deep and fully mouth filling while remaining ethereal and tense. Both red wines mirror their maker and are filled with generosity, joy, calm, energy, and subtle wit. Arribas Wine Company The guys over at Arribas Wine Company, Ricardo Alves and Frederico Machado, continue their reclamation project in the far eastern edge of Trás-os-Montes, always within sight of the Douro River and the Spanish border. Never have I seen two people so committed in mind, body, soul, blood, sweat and youth, to their massive project to protect what remains of this landscape and its more than fifty indigenous grape varieties (and counting!) from big-business wine companies. All their wines are co-fermented field blends from dozens of parcels with so many geologically different spots (mostly igneous rocks and to a lesser degree, metamorphic) along the Douro River where a short length of river acts as the physical northeastern border between Spain and Portugal. Arribas Wine Company parcels scattered below with the Douro River in view. These guys don’t know the proportion of grape varieties that make up their wines because it’s simply impossible to ascertain, but there are few blended grape wines in the world with such terroir distinction as theirs. These wines taste and feel of the summer sun and its freezing summer nights that can swing more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Some wines are bright red and with 11.5% alcohol, like the seventy cases produced of Quilómetro; others are inky black and animal but with 12% alcohol and raging freshness, like Raiola, with just over a hundred cases made. Their starting red, Saroto Tinto, is a perfect balance of high and low tones—the result of more than fifty different ancient, indigenous, old-vine varieties farmed in different plots picked together and forged into one masterful and profoundly complex wine that should fall within any curious wine drinker’s budget. The reds of Arribas are tremendous, and while Quilómetro and Raiola are spendy, they are well worth it for the experience. Drone selfie taken in the Trás-os-Montes Arribas Wine Company has new additions arriving on this boat for which I had to push their buttons to increase our allocation: Saroto Branco and Saroto Rosé wines. This dizzying duo is extremely low production—considerably smaller than the already limited Saroto Tinto—with loads of familiar, beautiful nuances, and with characteristics that may be a first for many, even those with a lot of experience with Portuguese wine. Like the rest, both are field blends of uncountable grape varieties and made in a very simple way using a mix of barrel and concrete aging. Interestingly, the rosé is an equal blend of red and white grapes. It’s easy to see that neither of these Saroto wines are fined or filtered, and they represent extremely well made natty (not nasty!) wines. Given the overwhelming demand for orange wines (Saroto white is really an orange wine) and the drastic limit on the rosé, these wines will evaporate quickly, so reach out as soon as possible if you are interested. Spain Manuel Moldes Things would be a lot easier with Manuel Moldes’ wines if we could buy them by the container. The reality is that we can’t, and what we do get disappears in a flash—which is only fun if you're fast on the draw. We cut our teeth some years ago with a good Albariño producer in the south of Rías Baixas, in the subzone of Contado de Tea, just across the Miño River from Portugal’s most renowned subzone of Vinho Verde, Monção e Melgaço. Salnés, home to Manuel’s Albariños, is ground zero for the top wines and producers in the entire region. Most vineyards are within sight of the Atlantic, and its regulating effect and generally cold temperatures supercharge its Albariños with high acidity levels rarely equaled in still white wine, the world over. Manuel (whose friends and family call him Chicho—same nickname for his father and older brother…) is not just a fortunate producer who benefits from the magnificent terroirs of Salnés, he’s also widely considered one of its very best, along with wineries like Albamar, Nanclares, Zárate, and, perhaps most of all (at least for me), Forjas del Salnes’ Leirana wines, a collaboration of the Spanish luminaries Raúl Pérez and Rodrigo Mendes. Manuel’s white wine range is a sure thing, and 2019 is a perfectly-suited vintage for his style: intense mineral, zippy freshness, citrus for days, and gobs of subtle complexities. The first Albariño in his range, 2019 Afelio, comes from a collection of different parcels (more than twenty) mostly grown on granite soils and a smidge of the rare and prized vineyards grown on schist. It’s aged in a mix of tanks and neutral French oak barrels. For those of you who know Arnaud Lambert’s gorgeous Saumur Chenin Blanc, Clos du Midi, from Brézé, this is a solid answer to it from Rías Baixas. It’s simply far too good for its price, and its limited quantity makes it hard to spread around too far. Coming from a very rare bedrock and topsoil composition of severely decomposed schist, 2019 A Capela de Aios is serious business. In contrast to Afelio and its quasi-Clos du Midi characteristics floating high in the ether, this wine has substance that could easily be compared to other Chenin Blancs we work with from Patrick Baudouin, in France’s Anjou, an area with many vineyards on the same rock type developed during the same series of geological events that took place around three-hundred million years ago: the Variscan orogeny. This wine is aged solely in old 500-liter French oak barrels for a year or so before bottling in order to sculpt its powerful body and dynamic power. Even more limited than Afelio, it’s simply a must for anyone seriously into dry Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Chablis, and the Savoie’s ripper, Jacquère. A mighty wine with seriously fine trim. Last in the range of Manuel’s Albariños is the 2019 As Dunas, perhaps the newest and most important unicorn in the world of serious white wine. Manuel, Raúl Pérez and Rodrigo Mendes discovered this small collection of vineyards grown on extremely fine-grained beach sand derived from schist, in the far south of Salnés, overlooking the Ría de Pontevedra and the Atlantic. With an almost entirely new and exciting face of Albariño, these three winegrowers are splitting the parcels and bottling them under each of their own labels. Its combination of fine schist sand and the open face to Atlantic winds renders an Albariño with extremely refined nuances of citrus and slightly golden-brown sweet spices, and an explosive pallet supercharged by acidic freshness and deep salinity. As Dunas, translated as the dunes, is as rare as it is special. With only 120 bottles of this wine imported for the entire US, there simply won’t be enough to go around. Manuel and the As Dunas sands Manuel’s red 2018 Acios Mouros comes from Rías Baixas and is composed of 60% Caiño Redondo, 20% Espadeiro, and 20% Loureiro Tinto. The first two of these grapes have more acid than tannin and bright aromatics, while the latter is darker with an equally high level of matching tannin and acidity. In Rías Baixas and Northern Portugal’s Monção e Melgaço, red wine historically had a majority share of vineyard land, whereas today it’s the opposite. Red wines of Rías Baixas are often terribly acidic and intense with bright aromas, but there are those that manage to wrangle what may have been beasts in another cellar into something more pleasant, aromatically addicting and much more inviting—while still maintaining the vigorous energy of a white wine. Grown on a mixture of granite and schist bedrock, many of the vines are ancient, with some of them on pre-phylloxera rootstocks that are as old as two hundred years. The average age of vines is around fifty, which helps curb what may be excessive energy from the youngest of them. The old and ancient vines also impart a richer mid-palate with sappier fruit—both welcome flesh enhancers for this otherwise straight-shooting red that feels every bit as much a white, save the tannins, red and black fruits, and earthy savory notes accentuated with nuances of bay leaf and spice. 2018 was a much warmer vintage than the surrounding years, which makes this year’s Acios Mouros a standout from any iteration bottled before it. It’s special and as rare as the others in Manuel’s range. Salnés subzone of Spain's Rías Baixas A long-time friendly connection with Bierzo producer José Antonio Garcia resulted in the creation of Lentura, a complete outlier in Manuel’s lineup. In this land known for its rustic, heavy wines, 2019 Lentura is a Bierzo wine led by vibrant natural tension and freshness, red and black fruits, pointed mineral textures, and medium-to-low-weight alcohol compared to most of the wines made in this region. Alcohol and power are easy to achieve in Bierzo; it’s finding balanced elegance that presents the much greater challenge. A little more than three hours toward the east from Rías Baixas, the climate in Bierzo is extreme with a much more continental/Mediterranean influence and very little influence from the Atlantic. The summer days can be as hot as 45°C (113°F) while the nights can drop to 15°C (59°F), making for one of the most extreme diurnal summertime shifts in the entire world of wine. During winter it often reaches temperatures as low as -8°C (18°F), or maybe even colder. Bierzo also claims the distinction of the oldest average vine age within Spain, and quite possibly all of Europe. The mix for the 2019 Lentura is 70% Mencia and 30% Alicante Buschet (the 2018 was 60% Alicante Buschet and 40% Mencia), making for a more elegant version than last year’s Lentura, which was already a delicious, fuller-bodied wine. Its altitude and geologic setting are as broad as its diurnal shift. On the valley floor at an altitude of 300 meters, the vines are grown on clay, sand and large cobbles, while high up on the hills toward the west, the altitude can exceed 1000 meters and is grown on pizarra (slate) bedrock and topsoil. Manuel’s Bierzo is rendered from vines with an average age of seventy years and comes from both the valley floor and high up on the slate hillside. In the cellar it is fermented with 20% whole bunches for five to seven days, followed by aging in an equal balance of stainless steel and old, 300-liter barrels. Manuel really hit the mark in 2019, making this his best yet. Germany Wasenhaus vineyards for Am Kreuz wines, official vineyard name: Staufener Rotemberg. Wasenhaus The much-anticipated new vintage from Wasenhaus is finally arriving! There are a half dozen or more new cuvées added to our roster this year and the problem is that the quantities are so minuscule that it will be hard to satisfy the demand. Despite their obviously superb and game-changing quality, I am so surprised by how well these wines have been received by the market; who would’ve thought that German Spätburgunder and Weissburgunder have become some of the most coveted wines in our entire portfolio? Apologies in advance that we won’t be able to satisfy all requests. For those of you who will acquire some, enjoy this glimpse into the bright future of non-Riesling German wines. There’s a video on our website of Alex Götze taking us through their entire range. Don’t miss it! The boys of Wasenhaus, Alex Götze (left) and Christoph Wolber (right). Weingut Wechsler In recent years, there haven’t been many more exciting new arrivals to our collection than Katharina Wechsler, a superstar-in-the-making German Riesling producer with ridiculous vineyard holdings in the epicenter for dry German Riesling, Rheinhessen’s Westhofen and Flörsheim-Dalsheim. This organic (certified since 2021 vintage) and biodynamic winegrower is the owner of enviable holdings of the vineyard, Kirchspiel, and a small chunk of perhaps the most coveted of all, Morstein. With not only Riesling in play, Katharina loves concocting wines that range from pure pleasure and fun, like Sexy MF, her Pinot Noir rosé that is too delicious to be true, her savory orange wines, to her classically-styled dry wines, like the knockout Scheurebe Trocken, also arriving on this container. However, the most important wine arriving this month (the big cru wines will come on the next container) is her entry-level Riesling Trocken. It will give any of Germany’s top entry-level dry Rieslings a run for the money, but highlights the lifted and elegant exotic characteristics of Riesling only found in this part of the world. There’s a good first batch of it, but we expect it to quickly disappear. Everyone at The Source is happy to finally have German Riesling as a part of our portfolio once again, and we’re so lucky it’s this one! Two of Wechsler’s famous German Riesling crus, Kirchspiel on the left and Morstein on the right. France Rodolphe Demougeot Rodolphe Demougeot’s 2018s and 2019s have both arrived on our French container, and a double-up of Burgundy vintages on the same shipment has never happened for us before (Duband’s incoming wines will repeat the phenomenon!), but we have no choice if we want to get back on track with the normal release schedule and without missing anything. Demougeot’s wines are extremely reliable—dare I say it, predictable, in the best possible ways: overall quality, very measured bandwidth, and no extremes. He has committed to organic farming since the early 2000s and shortly after that his interest leaned toward a sleeker wine profile. This is great news for his 2018 reds, which don’t follow the vintage’s trend of heavier weight. All the wines remain aromatic, with ripeness kept in check and a much higher degree of fresher fruits than can be found throughout much of the Côte d’Or in 2018. 2019 red Burgundy is also a fuller year with perhaps a touch of redder fruit in the mix with the dominant darker fruit notes. The vintage is touted yet another great, but it’s very early to know how great it might just be. In any case, there is plenty of freshness to be found with Demougeot’s wines (as with Duband’s 2019s) and we feel fortunate to have Demougeot on our team; he fits in perfectly. Inside Pommard's Grande Combe, Les Vignots sits on the upper slope in the middle of the picture and the premier crus, La Chanière and Les Arvelets, lower on the slope and in the foreground. Domaine Chardigny Despite their very successful first vintage in 2016, the movement in overall quality of the wines crafted by the brotherhood at Domaine Chardigny has known only one direction: up. Initially, Pierre-Maxime and Victor Chardigny took the reins from their father, Jean-Michel, a French cartoon-character-of-a-man, with his exaggerated French accent, sweetness, accommodating nature and perennial smile. Then the middle brother, Jean-Baptiste, who spent quite a few years as the vineyard manager for Joseph Leflaive’s biodynamic Mâconnais domaine after he finished enology school, finally rejoined the ensemble of this joy-filled family. The quality from the Chardigny boys in the 2019 and 2020 vintages is a notably different level than their first three vintages, 2016-2018, which is partly due to the better balance of these seasons compared to the previous ones, but even more so to their rapid development as winegrowers. Despite the rise in quality of their Beaujolais wines, it’s Chardigny’s white Burgundies that have made the greatest strides. We have taken a stronger position with their Saint-Véran “Vieille Vignes” (from 50-year-old vines) and Saint-Véran “Bois de Fée”, named after the hill itself, facing directly south toward Beaujolais and on the other side with Saint-Amour and Juliénas in view. It’s right at the divergent point of the acidic igneous and metamorphic rocks of France’s ancient Massif Centrale and the limestone and clay that begins precisely at the bottom of Bois de Fée and moves north into Burgundy. What was missing in the past—the complete package from bright fresh notes balanced with the charm and roundness of good white Burgundy—has come into full view with these two. While Côte d’Or whites continue to vault further out of reach for those of us on a wine budget (yes, I too stick to a “realistic” budget despite my fortunate access), these wines raised for a year in 500-liter to 228-liter oak barrels are even more valuable to Chardonnay seekers with a great appreciation for Old World wine. Victor Chardigny thiefing their 2020 Saint-Amour À la Folie 2019 Beaujolais is a wonderful vintage reminiscent of the early 2010s. The fruit is redder and the wines less sun-drenched than 2015, 2017 and 2018. There are certainly many successes to be had between 2017 and 2018, but we are happy to see this more familiar face of Beaujolais once again. Chardigny’s 2019 Saint-Amour Clos du Chapitre continues to dazzle with its trim figure and subtler notes than its counterpart, the 2019 Saint-Amour À la Folie. À la Folie has won over so many with its unabashed, bodacious curves, middleweight texture and big but trim flavor. It was always the greater potential production between these two Saint-Amour crus and was the one they ran most of their experiments on with different aging vessels between concrete, stainless steel, foudre, and small oak barrels (called fûts de chêne, or simply fût, in Burgundy). In 2020, the boys—they all always have such boyish charm, just like their father—really figured this wine out. Tasted out of barrel with Victor and Pierre-Maxime this summer, the 2020 Saint-Amour “À la Folie” was stunning. I asked to taste more barrels to see if it was only the first that was so glorious, and all were the same emotionally invigorating experience. More precise and gorgeous than ever before, all the barrels felt more like Burgundy than Beaujolais! There is a new bottling from the Chardignys that we will begin to import with the 2020 vintage labelled Beaujolais-Leynes, named after their hometown. It’s a Beaujolais-Village appellation wine sourced from vineyards at the previously mentioned geological convergence between Beaujolais and Mâconnais. It’s made entirely with carbonic fermentation with 100% whole clusters in concrete and stainless steel with almost no intervention over its two-week fermentation. Given the shortage of fabulous Beaujolais at affordable price points, we’re bringing in more of this wine to try to fill some of the massive demand. It will easily fall into the right range for many restaurant by-the-glass programs and should hit wine retail shelves at only a hair over $20. For organically certified Beaujolais from a small domaine, that’s a steal. You’ll see…
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.■
Straight out of six years of enology school, in Nantes, the humble Alexandre Déramé started running his family estate winery. It’s been over ten years now and he has single-handedly brought the estate to a newly respected level. Although his production in total is probably considered "medium sized", his yields are amongst the lowest in Muscadet and his “Vieille Vignes” production is miniscule. His wife and mother help with simple things but Alexandre is pretty much a one-man show with one vineyard employee. The first time we tasted his wines we were surprised that a producer of this quality had not been snapped up long ago, especially after tasting some old wines that have just recently been put on the market from his earliest bottlings. His latest venture is converting his vineyards to organic farming.
Climate change is relentless. June was a scorcher in Europe while at the same time just a month ago France was hit by yet more major hailstorms in many areas. European countries are playing a high-stakes game of dodgeball, with the climate playing an unrelenting offense. If it’s not hail, it’s mildew pressure and/or rain at the wrong time, hot winters followed by Jack Frost in the Spring and summertime sharknadoes. Nowhere seems immune, except maybe places producing sun-drenched boozy wines along the Mediterranean coast. Who in the fine wine world wants those, anyway? A lot of people, actually. But like me, perhaps you might be living on the fringe of the wine world, where you don’t want to be punched in the face by the alcohol in a glass of wine, but rather by a nice, fresh, acidic and minerally love tap, or maybe the occasional electrocution by these latter elements. Well, 2022 is off to a good start for many, but so much can happen between now and harvest. Gino Della Porta, from the new Monferrato project in Nizza, Sette, says that the churches in Piemonte fill up with praying vignaioli before harvest and return to emptiness once the grapes are picked. We wish the best of luck to all winegrowers out there, not only those who make our preferred elixirs. Gino Della Porto from the new Monferrato cantina, Sette, and his partner Gian Luca Colombo (on the right). Website Feature Update We have two new website features that should (hopefully) add to the joy of perusal. Mobile devices will always fall short of laptops or desktops when it comes to more fluid navigation, so they’re where you will see the biggest improvements. The first redesign is our Producers menu. We’ve customized new country maps with more precise region selections and an easier view of each producer from next to their map without the need for excessive scrolling. The second improvement is a producer profile sidebar on our producer profile pages that displays more related content. The wines are also easier to get to with a quick dropdown (I know the profiles can be long, which required a lot of scrolling to finally reach the wines), as are related materials like terroir maps, videos, newsletters that update information that may not be found on profile pages or wine descriptions, and lastly, the ability to download the profile content into a printable format. Please don’t hesitate to send suggestions directly to me at email@example.com. We’re always looking for ways to improve your experience and much of the time we can’t see obvious things right in front of our faces. 2022 Spring Trip Top 15 Wines Following the New Arrivals, I’ve posted some highlights to drop you a little tease to get your wheels turning for the future. There are so many spectacular wines to talk about, but I trimmed it down to a select few during my forty-day Europe trip this Spring. New Arrivals The logjam at ports continues and while some countries are getting better, France remains solidly in last place with improving their turnaround time from the moment we submit orders for a container to the time it arrives at our warehouse. Why France more than anyone else? No idea. We don’t know what will hit for sure in July, but we think this new batch of French wines just might do so. Chevreux-Bournazel, Champagne The last release from Chevreaux-Bournazel stirred up a frenzy the moment we published last year’s June Newsletter. The small amount of wines allocated to us were out of stock by the end of the day—an unexpected result for this quite unknown but likely-to-turn-cult Champagne producer. We have a little more wine with the 2018 vintage than last year, but not much more. Decanter magazine describes the 2018 vintage as “truly exceptional,” and “destined to be remembered for producing both quality and quantity.” According to Bollinger’s Cellar Master (via drinkmaster.com), Gilles Descôtes, described it as the “best of his life,” and that there is a resemblance to both 2002 and 2004. 2018 is indeed a year with a good yield and also very good quality despite the warmer year. One key was that the bountiful crop helped maintain balance for the wines than a smaller crop would, leaving a greater amount of acidity for the level of ripeness. Three Pinot Meunier-based wines will arrive from this micro-producer, surely the smallest from any producer in our portfolio other than our Txakoli revolutionary, Alfredo Egia, and a new organic and biodynamic-certified Bordeaux producer, Sadon-Huguet, that will hopefully arrive before the end of the year. Two cuvées imported before are Connigis, grown on a very steep slope (think Mosel-steep) with hard limestone bedrock, and clay and chalk topsoil, and La Capella, grown on an even steeper vineyard (like the steepest, terraceless vineyards in the Mosel) with a thinner layer of clay topsoil, chalk bedrock on the lower portion, and silex (chert), chalk, and marne (calcium carbonate-rich clay topsoil) in the upper section. The new cuvée, Le Bouc, is their first blend of different vintages and the two plots for La Capella and Connigis. Chevreux-Bournazel’s Champagnes are all biodynamically farmed, unchaptalized, naturally fermented with indigenous yeast, unfiltered, zero dosage, and with all cellar movements made in sync with the rhythm of the lunar calendar. Their range is led by dried herbs and grasses, tea, honey, dried flowers of all sorts from yellow, orange, violet and red, and a multitude of savory nuances. More than anything, I find that Stéphanie and Julien’s wines separate themselves from much of the typical Champagne style due to their strong polycultural setting, different from other more famous Champagne areas. Here, there are large expanses of separation between vineyards in the backcountry of the Vallée de la Marne, and the wines are a notable departure from fruit-led, bony Champagne with fewer layers of greater complexity. Massive forest-capped slopes covered in an endless sea of vines with no other crops in sight than the swathes of grain fields in the flatter areas below don’t lend themselves to such a broad array of nuances. Chevreux-Bournazel’s wines are alive and their forcefully savory nature is almost overwhelming, which makes them gastronomically suitable for a greater mix of cuisines. Christophe et Fils, Chablis The 2020 season was not as hot as 2018 and 2019. While 2019 may have jumped a little further away from being described as “classic” Chablis due to its riper fruit notes (but with a surprisingly high level of acidity for this warm year), some hail 2020 as “classic,” “early but classic,” and “a great vintage.” I don’t even know what “classic” means anymore with Chablis or anywhere else, do you? I know what “great” means to me, personally (with emotional value topping the list), but my “great” may not be yours. Our current frame of reference and experience sculpts all of our preferences, and formative years are always present too. People who’ve been in the wine business for decades have a different reference for wine than those recently seduced by Dionysus. Classic Chablis? I haven’t had a young Chablis that vibrates with tense citrus and flint, a green hue in color, shimmering acidity, and coarse mineral texture all in the same sip for a long time—so long that I don’t even remember the last vintage I had those sensations with newly bottled Chablis. (Of course, a recently bottled wine still high strung with sulfites can give that appearance but the wine will bear its truer nature a few years after its bottling date.) Chablis is different now. Burgundy is different. Everywhere is different than a decade ago and even more so than two decades ago. With the composition of today’s wine lists and their one or two pages of quickly-changing inventory compared to extensive cellars of restaurant antiquity, most of us developed different expectations—if not a completely different perspective—for wine now than what “classic” used to imply. (The idea of “classic” from more than twenty-five years ago when I first became obsessed with wine now conjures images of chemically farmed vineyards and their spare wines.) 2020 may be fresher and brighter than the last two years in some ways but maybe with less stuffing than the similarly calibrated 2017s, a vintage I loved the second I tasted the first example out of barrel at Domaine Jean Collet. Maybe we can call 2020 “classic,” but if picking started at the end of August would that be “classic” graded on a curve? Sébastien Christophe’s wines are classic in their own way. Like older-school Chablis, they’re usually in no hurry to reveal their cards upon arrival, especially the top crus and his Chablis Vieilles Vignes. Sometimes they perplexingly arrive with a blank stare, but after a proper rest they liven up; some take a month, some three, others a year or more. The usual exception is one or the other of his two entry-level wines, the Petit Chablis and Chablis. Some years the Chablis comes out slinging miniature oyster shells at your face while the Petit Chablis plays tortoise. Other years, the Petit Chablis springs off the boat with a big smile and sticks you with rapier mineral nuances, blowing away expectations for the appellation with its wider frame and rounder palate than most wines from this appellation. One of them is almost always notably stronger than the other when they arrive, but a year later the script can flip with the same vintage of wines. Let’s see what 2020 bolts from the starting block first. Between the premier crus and the Christophe starter range is the lonely Chablis Vieilles Vignes—too big to play with other Chablis appellation wines and not part of the premier cru club. Sourced from two parcels in Fontenay-près-Chablis, one above the premier cru lieu-dit, Côte de Fontenay, and the other southeast of the village, they were planted in 1959 by Sébastien’s grandfather. These vines render a richer wine out of the gates that tightens up with more aeration (the opposite of many wines), shedding superficial weight and concentrating power. Minerally and deep, it often rivals one or another of Sébastien’s premier crus from each year. Were these west and north-facing parcels in a more southerly exposition and outside of the small valley they sit, they surely would be classified as premier cru sites. Similar to the Petit Chablis and Chablis, it’s hard to predict which Premier Crus will show the best out of the gates; it’s anyone’s game upon arrival, no matter the pedigree of the cru. What remains somewhat consistent, at least in my experience, is the way they behave in a general sense. Fourchaume is the most muscular, offering a stiff mineral jab and a stone-cold smile with a set of nice pearly shells. Opposite of Fourchaume, Mont de Milieu is sleek, fluid and versatile, resting more on subtlety than force. It often shows as much left bank nuances with its ethereal minerality and more vertical frame. Montée de Tonnerre borrows from the best of each of the other two premier crus and turns the dial down a touch in pursuit of sublime balance. Usually the most regal, sometimes it takes a while to show its fine trim and breed, while on another day it shows up straight away. While Montée de Tonnerre takes pole position in Chablis’ super-second premier crus for many Chablis followers, it doesn’t always finish in first place chez Christophe et fils. The title of best premier cru here is up for grabs each vintage and all have the potential to top the podium. Each individual taster’s preference and calibration on balance, and the moment the wine is tasted—influenced by the mood of the taster, the environment, what they ate or are eating, anything they tasted beforehand, the order in which the wines are tasted, the cork, the moon, the barometric pressure, etc—will decide their frontrunner. It’s true that most compelling wines aren’t static, and neither are we. The wine we prefer today may not be what we prefer tomorrow. This makes wine fun but sometimes maddeningly elusive, especially in moments when in pursuit to relive an extraordinary bottle and the follow up is inexplicably off and deflating. With too many variables, firm conclusions based on a single taste or bottle, or moment in time, is shaky ground. The most solid advice in wine is to consistently buy from a producer you love. It’s the most reliable way to keep the average quality of your wines high. Christophe’s first vintage of Blanchots was 2015. This grand cru faces directly south on a sharply angled, wedge-shaped hillside. Those familiar enough with this grand cru know it typically generates expansive wines, often with more blunt force than sting; nevertheless, still entirely grand cru material. In Blanchots’ defense, needlepoint texture and electricity are commonly stronger attributes for the left bank. Christophe’s Blanchots comes from conventionally farmed vines of more than forty years on white topsoil on the famous Kimmerigdian marl bedrock of the area. The wine is aged in 60% inox and 40% oak (with roughly one-third of the oak new) for eighteen months. Sébastien doesn’t employ cellar tricks, so one tastes the cru and quality of the farming. He purchases his Blanchots fruit, as he does his newest grand cru, Les Preuses. The Les Preuses grapes are organically farmed, and it shows in the wine. While maintaining its grand cru strength, it’s full of life, and more lifted and subtle, the latter element harder to achieve with sustainably farmed vineyards. Since I tasted all the new young vintages from Sébastien from 2012 up to now, the 2020 Les Preuses is unquestionably the greatest young Christophe wine I’ve experienced shortly after bottling—an important distinction. (Tasting newly bottled wines can be a fool’s game. Most of the time for months after bottling they’re off-balance and stretched uncomfortably thin and tight, and generally unresponsive to any attempted coaxing. During my wine production years, the first couple of weeks after bottling may show well, but then wines tend to tighten and shut down for some months. Often it seemed to take about as much time in bottle as their élevage after the bottling for many wines to recalibrate to their previous form. However, I suppose that wines aged extremely long in the cellar, like three or more years, may not behave the same way.) I hope this incredible effort lives up to its promise during my first interaction with it. The 2020 Les Preuses seemed to be a pivotal wine for Sébastien to go from a toe in the water to a full jump into organic culture, a point I’ve pressed him on since our first meeting in 2013. The difference between organic and non-organic wines in a region so particular as Chablis can be obviously clear (with few exceptions, and one extremely notable one…) for wines that are made to highlight their terroirs, not the cleverness and over-intellectualization in the cellar work. Stéphane Rousset, Northern Rhône Stéphane Rousset’s Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph range represents one of the greatest terroir-focused values in all the Northern Rhône. Virtues of the sublime marriage between Syrah and Northern Rhône granite and schist are commonly extolled, and there are few as fair-priced and thrilling as Rousset’s. Stéphane Crozes-Hermitage vineyards, unlike most of the low altitude, flat and gently sloping Crozes-Hermitage areas, are on steep rock terraces difficult to work by tractor, or on terraces with many vine rows, like the eastern end of Hermitage. Sharing the likes of Saint-Joseph, Hermitage, Cornas, and Côte-Rôtie, most of his wines sell for a fraction of those from more illustrious appellations, but with work that puts the same heavy toll on his body. I usually meet Stéphane in the afternoon when he’s just out of the vineyards, bushed but with a big smile, his bright cheeks rosy from the sun, ready to give me the tour—which always includes a visit to say hello to the precariously steep and rocky Les Picaudières, one of my favorite vineyards in Europe and one of the truest, quietly great terroir treasures in the Rhône Valley. Each time I drink his wines I am reminded of his daily toil with his father, Robert, who still works by Stéphane’s side, as they race to stay ahead of today’s runaway sunny seasons, followed by a full sprint at harvest time to beat the birds, the bees and the relentless sun when the grapes are in the zone. Located behind Hermitage and across the Rhône River from some of Saint-Joseph’s best steep granite vineyards in Saint-Jean-de-Muzols and Vion, Stéphane’s Crozes-Hermitage vineyards are in Gervans, Érôme, and Crozes-Hermitage (the appellation’s namesake), the original communes before the appellation’s extensive eastern and southern expansion. Stéphane’s vineyards are unlike any of your standard Crozes-Hermitage. Much of the appellation wraps around Hermitage from its eastern flank to the south on an expansive flood plain. These areas have a multitude of sedimentary rock and topsoil from mostly river deposits with some areas richer in calcareous-rich depositions but most are a mix of silt, sand, gravel and cobbles. Behind Hermitage it’s mostly a continuation of the acidic granite bedrock of Hermitage’s far western flank, with vineyards lower down on the granite terraces sometimes frosted with slightly yellowish white loess, a fine-grained wind-blown sediment rich in calcium-carbonate. All Stéphane’s Syrah vines are on granite bedrock with sections heavier in loess topsoil reserved for the Crozes-Hermitage appellation red and the vineyards with the deepest loess topsoil are reserved for his small production of whites. 2019 may be the most promising vintage in Stéphane’s neck of the Crozes-Hermitage appellation since 2015 or 2016. He is a fan of both 2019 & 2020 but says that 2019 maintained a higher level of acidity compared to the surrounding vintages because of dehydration from the heat. There is a high variability reported between regions, but Stéphane finds his to be more structured than his 2020s. 2020 was the earliest-picked vintage since 2003 (while maintaining more fresh fruits than this deeply hydric-stressed vintage) with wines said to be easy early drinkers. Sourced from a mix of mostly granitic vineyard sites scattered around the hillsides behind Hermitage and some terraces closer to the river on granite bedrock with a mix of loess and granite sand topsoil is Stéphane’s first red in the lineup, the 2020 Crozes-Hermitage Rouge. Aged in a mix of primarily concrete and inox vats with a little in oak, this wine is the most accessible out of the gates. The loess contribution softens the edges, lifts the aromatics and curbs the deep saltiness often imparted by the granitic soil. A crowd pleaser, this pure Syrah is also very serious juice led by the pedigree of its geological genetics that bring its terroirs into focus more than the variety—similarly to terroirs like Cornas, Saint-Joseph and Côte-Rôtie. Crozes-Hermitage is an appellation where a relative shoestring wine budget won’t hinder studying the influence of how many different soil types can create very different wines made from a single red grape variety. One only needs to know the location of each producer’s vineyards. This will take a bit of research, made easy by the wealth of accessible information nowadays, particularly in the fabulous Rhône books put out by authors Remington Norman and John Livingstone-Learmonth. (There’s a new book out, by Decanter contributing editor Matt Walls, that I haven’t dug into yet, but I’ve heard it’s also a good place to start.) During my first visit with Stéphane in the spring of 2017, a particular Syrah stood out among the different parcels he vinified separately before blending them into the basic appellation wine. Equally good and already on qualitative par with his Saint-Joseph and Les Picaudières, I asked why he didn’t also bottle it on its own. He shrugged, grinned, contemplated, and we moved on—my first insight into the deep humility of this quiet and jovial man that by the end of the day is clearly spent. I pushed him to bottle it alone via email and during all of my subsequent visits. The 2019 Crozes-Hermitage “Les Méjeans” is the new addition to the range, and a worthwhile exploration for anyone interested in Stéphane’s wines and high altitude, granite-based Northern Rhône Syrah. Les Méjeans comes from three different parcels only a golf shot from each other and rising to as high as 350m (maybe as high as it gets in the appellation), all within a small area known as Les Méjeans. This is the only purely granite-based Crozes-Hermitage Stéphane bottles, and it tastes like it: salt, earth, animal and pepper before fruit and flower, rustic but elegant and deep graphite-like mineral textures that keep it fresh. The steeply terraced vineyard of the three has the most fine-grained sand (an unexpectedly small grain, like beach sand), and the other two are more gradually sloped, lending support for their vines against the hydric stress of these fully exposed sites on top of the hill. We imported 600 bottles for the entire US market (he didn’t make much more than that and we both wanted to be conservative out of the gates), so let us know your interest level so we can make sure you get a shot at it. The decision is often split between Rousset’s Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage “Les Picaudières” in preference depending on the taster and the amount of time the wines are open. Les Picaudières is often less immediately approachable in the context of the two, but it’s still very accessible straight away. Les Picaudières takes time to reveal its full depth and expansion while the Saint-Joseph usually hits its mark in about fifteen minutes and remains in a heightened state and on a straight line for hours. In my opinion, Les Picaudières is the greater terroir between the two, but it will take time once opened for it to take control of the standoff, eventually evolving so much that one begins to understand that it is well beyond its appellation in hierarchy. Likely a geological transition area, the vineyard’s bedrock, on an extremely steep south face surrounded by forest on all sides except where it tops out on a ridgeline, ranges somewhere between granite and schist—perhaps slightly more of the latter rock type. The topsoil on these precarious terraces is entirely derived from its bedrock, landing this wine with some elements found in the great schist vineyards of Côte-Rôtie and the granite sites of nearby Hermitage (where only on its west flank it’s mostly granite) and the granitic southern end of Saint-Joseph across the way. Les Picaudières is no ordinary Crozes-Hermitage (as you can see by the photos), and texturally it is almost unrecognizable as a Crozes-Hermitage—except its price! Textured with fresh metal-iodine-graphite palate aromas and mouthfeel, it’s led by stronger savory, earthy and rustic notes more than fruit. If you walk down the path with this wine, give it the proper time to reveal all of its hand or you will miss the main event. Rousset’s Saint-Joseph is now labeled Saint-Joseph “Côte des Rivoires.” During my discussion with the Roussets about revamping their range with the addition of Les Méjeans, I also suggested they add to the label the site name they use exclusively for their Saint-Joseph. (Rousset has a ton of great sites that may warrant future individual bottlings, and they may have a third new in the mix—possibly a grape selection from all of their Crozes-Hermitage vineyards in honor of previous generations.) Rousset has two adjacent east-facing plots inside one of Saint-Joseph’s top communes, Tournon. It’s a nail-bitingly steep drive up the hill with a complete open view into the massive valley to the east. At times it would seem like floating up the hill if it weren’t for the bumpy road and granite terraces and rock wall just a few feet from one window. Aged similarly to Les Picaudières and Les Méjeans in a mix of old and new barrels (roughly 10-20% new) for about a year before bottling, it is the most forward and perhaps most elegant wine in Rousset’s lieu-dit range, at least immediately upon pulling the cork. Apparent in pedigree, this classic southern Saint-Joseph springs into action upon opening, releasing esters of water-stressed wild shrubs and garrigue (with much less violet and lavender compared to many others in the area), and more earth and sun-rich cherry, and fresh but ripe fig. Perhaps the saltiest and softest texture between Rousset’s lieux-dits, it’s usually the frontrunner in the first hour and the most charming. Other Arrivals (in short form) Nothing new to report with Clos Fornelli, possibly Corsica’s most friendly-priced, organically grown, fresh and simply delicious wines from the island. Arriving are the 2021 La Robe d’Ange Blanc, a pure Vermentinu, 2021 La Robe d’Ange Rosé made entirely from Sciacarello, and 2020 La Robe d’Ange Rouge, also composed entirely of this wonderful queen of the island, my favorite Corsican grape, Sciacarello. All were born on soils derived from the erosion of the geological formation referred to as Alpine Corsica on the northeast of the island on a series of terraces that Josée Vanucci and her husband, Fabrice Couloumère, tend their vines. (Alpine Corsica is named as such because it was developed during the Alpine orogeny, while the granite parts, the dominant geological formation on the island, known as Crystalline Corsica, date further back to Pangaean time.) This eastern side of the island with mostly eastern and southern exposures butted up the island’s mountains (yes, surprisingly a lot of mountain area in Corsica) protect them from the scorching early evening summer and autumnal sun, leaving them fresher than most of the wines from the island’s west side where many of Corsica’s famous wines come from. Clos Fornelli’s wines are raised mostly in concrete vats with some old 500-liter barrels. We can’t keep these in stock once they’re here, so don’t wait. Josée and Fabrice have everything sold just months after their release, making each year a one-shot opportunity. As you likely know, the big game for Domaine Jean Collet is Chablis, but Romain Collet was always interested in Saint-Bris, a neighboring appellation with the same bedrock, but on shallower rocky soils—soils mostly too spare for Chardonnay to thrive. Only a twenty minute drive from Chablis, this is Sauvignon Blanc territory and the 2020 Saint-Bris is the third vintage for Romain. With the prices of Sancerre making steady but notable increases each year, this Saint-Bris should be a consideration for by-the-glass programs in restaurants and a great starter to a summertime meal. Domaine Chardigny has a couple new vintages for us to feast on. These last few seasons were hit hard by Mother Nature, leaving much less compared to prior years. As regularly touted over the years since our first imported vintage (2016) from the Chardigny brothers, I believe both 2020 and 2021 are exceptional years for them and jump a few notches up from the years before, with 2019 a solid pregame for the breakthrough. The 2021 Beaujolais-Leynes is their newest Beaujolais label and made from a blend of many different parcels—some from the Beaujolais appellation classification with a mix of grapes from their two crus, Clos du Chapitre and À la Folie, all entirely EU organic certified wines. Leynes leads with red-fruited charm, while its complexity is tucked further inside. The 2020 Saint-Amour “Clos du Chapitre” is likely the best wine they’ve put to bottle—at least in comparison to any that predate the 2021s. (I don’t yet know how the 2021 crus panned out since they were bottled.) This vineyard is flat and visually uninspiring compared to much of Beaujolais’ scenic hillside vineyards, but regardless it performs exceptionally. Regal, with the greater polish between all Chardigny Beaujolais wines, the 2020 is a knockout. This was the vintage out of barrel that stunned me with its Côte d’Or likeness, despite differences in grapes. The Chardignys are making serious strides in the natural wine world all the while keeping their record clean from the rodent smell so commonly found in high-brow organic and natural Beaujolais these days. Don’t miss this wine from these young stars. As expressed previously in our September 2021 Newsletter, if Pique-Basse owner/vigneron, Olivier Tropet, had vineyards in appellations like Côte Rôtie, Cornas or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, he’d be more likely to garner wide acclaim, but he lives in Roaix, the Southern Rhône Valley’s tiniest Côtes-du-Rhône Village appellation. It’s hard to believe what he achieves within this relatively unknown village with his range of wines that have been organically certified since 2009 and are as soulful as they are exquisitely crafted. Arriving is the new release, 2020 La Brusquembille, a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Carignan, and a reload of 2019 Le Chasse-Coeur, a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Carignan. Syrah from the Southern Rhône Valley is often not that compelling because it can be a little weedy and lacking in the cool spice and exotic notes that come with Syrah further up into the Northern Rhône Valley. However, La Brusquembille may throw you for a loop if you share this opinion, especially with the 2020 clocking in at a modest (for the Southern Rhône) 13.5% alcohol. Without the Carignan to add more southern charm, it might easily be mistaken for a Crozes-Hermitage from a great year above the Chassis plain up by Mercurol, where this appellation’s terraced limestone vineyards lie and are quite similar to the limestone bedrock and topsoil at the vineyards of Pique-Basse, without the loess sediments common in Mercurol. It’s not as sleek in profile because it’s still from the south, but its savory qualities and red and black fruit nuances can be a close match. Despite the alcohol degree in the 2019 hitting 14.5% (while the target is always between 13%-14%), Olivier tries to pick the grapes for Le Chasse-Coeur on the earlier side for Grenache, a grape that has a hard time reaching phenolic maturity at comparative sugar levels as grapes like Syrah or Pinot Noir, and farms accordingly for earlier ripeness with the intention to maintain more freshness. It’s more dominated by red fruit notes than black—perhaps that’s what the bright red label is hinting at—and aged in cement vats, and sometimes stainless steel if the vintage is plentiful, to preserve the tension and to avoid Grenache’s predisposition for unwanted oxidation. Both Le Chasse-Coeur and La Brusquembille offer immense value for such serious wines. Some of our California sales and administration team with Douro luminary Mateus Nicolau de Almeida (Left to right: Leigh Ready, Mateus, Hadley Kemp & Victoria Diggs) 2022 Spring Trip Top 15 Wines No longer successfully on the run from Covid, I tested positive on my birthday on my forty-day European tour. You probably had it already and know what to expect, but I was caught off guard. I experienced unusually intense allergies prompted by a wet spring that ended with a two-day rise of more than twenty-five degrees (F) and lasted for three weeks and pushed every plant in the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy into full-throttle growth, ending my successful spring running streak (literally). Then Covid hit—surely contracted on the three different trains between Milan to Frankfurt. Milano’s Stazione Centrale is a perfectly orchestrated Covid super-spreader daily event, swarming and—at least what seemed to be—not a single person masked up until forced to by the train conductors inside the train. It seemed that every unmasked passenger walked through our train car on the way to theirs; I guess it’s not so clear for some which car is theirs from the outside indicators on the train. Still mandatory on public transport in Italy, the passengers and the crew promptly unmasked once into Switzerland then masked up again crossing into Germany. Silly. It felt like a light spring cold at first (and frankly, initially no different than the allergies I was experiencing) and I thought it couldn’t be Covid. The horrors of this coronavirus shared by everyone seemed intense and my initial symptoms weren’t aggressive enough. The lower body aches set in while touring Arturo Miguel’s (Bodega Artuke) Rioja Alavesa vineyards. The wind was bitterly cold, strong enough to rip shoots off vines that weren’t yet tipped (a quick manual breaking of the shoot tips to stop their vertical growth, a necessity in most of Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta vineyards at higher altitudes that take the full force of the north winds shrieking down the Sierra Cantabrian mountains), and I was cold enough and in my favorite element to not realize that I was already mid-fever. By the time we got out of the cold, I began to thaw in his cellar. Still oblivious to my condition, my head began to heat up and slowly made its way to full Ghost Rider. I’ve never been so hot! Covid is indeed a bizarre experience. I was lucky to get Covid-light with mild symptoms over the first few days, irritating but not debilitating aches, and a fever that lasted all of about sixteen hours—maybe because my head rushed into a ready-to-erupt volcano state and peaked early. A few days after the major symptoms passed, as many also said might happen, my lungs tightened (a somewhat normal experience for me with my minor asthma), feelings of depression and a lack of motivation (neither normal for me), and physically, mentally, and emotionally disconnected—zombie-like; lightly and uncomfortably, eternally stoned. No matter what I did or where I went for necessities like tests, masks, food, and water, I felt guilty for being close to anyone. My travel companions, Victoria, Leigh, and Hadley were empathetic to its untimeliness, as I was supposed to guide them through their trip in Iberia. They all had it in January and some were also recently boosted, so they were pretty chill with my new condition. Eventually I rented a different car in Logroño, the central hub of Rioja, and drove their same scenic route through my favorite section of Spain, the verdant and mystical coastal landscape from País Vasco, Cantabria, and Asturias, finally dropping the car in Galicia. My predicament was exacerbated by my wife’s mother’s visit from Chile, a normal occurence when I go on lengthy benders my wife doesn’t want to do with me anymore. Neither of them previously had Covid, so I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t visit producers. I was adrift on a strangely lonely planet for days—a culpable castaway surrounded by people I wasn’t supposed to even see. Friends and family kept their distance and, unintentionally, harbored a look of mistrust, like I’m going to lash out at them, or maybe they saw me as a potential dead man walking and didn’t want to break the news to me if they saw it worsen. In Santiago de Compostela with nowhere to go and nothing to do, I holed up outside of town for a night in a small hotel—cheap, but better than expected. The sun’s angelic evening beams illuminated the Santiago green countryside, and the temperature was warm but breezy and friendly. Still positive but a week past the heavier symptoms, I convinced Andrea to pick me up. Benched in the backseat, no hugs or kisses after a month apart, fully masked up, windows down for the two-hour drive with a feeling like we were on the rocks (although we weren’t) I hid out at home until those pesky coronavirus proteins completely expelled from my nose. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my taste or smell, so my job remains somewhat secure. (If I did lose them, I probably wouldn’t tell anyone anyway…) Regardless of my personal woes, the trip was very successful for me prior to the Covid battle and there was an immense amount of joyful and revelatory wines experienced, even if I missed sixteen Iberian visits. Making this list was hard. There are certainly many more than fifteen wines that deserve to be on it, but it’s trimmed down to the goosebump-inducing highlights and breakthroughs. Missing here is most of Iberia and our visit with a potential new producer in Piemonte that may have stolen the spotlight of the whole trip, but next month’s newsletter will have top picks from our expert staff. My top 15 in no particular order: Veyder-Malberg 2021 Riesling Bruck. All 2021s from Peter are wonderful and the Austrian Grüner Veltliners in general must be my favorite vintage ever for this variety. In fact, any one of Peter’s Grüner Veltliner crus could’ve made this list. Malat 2019 Riesling Pfaffenberg. 2019 is very successful from Michael Malat and I think they are his best wines to date, but the 2021s will be a strong follow and will surely be in the running for his “best ever,” next to the 2019s. Martin Mittelbach from Tegernseerhof. I wasn’t surprised he made the list… Tegernseerhof 2021 Steinertal Riesling Smaragd. 2021 was another extremely successful vintage across Martin Mittelbach’s entire range. As some of you know, his 2019s were a smashing success and finally the wine press gave him appropriately high marks. La Casaccia 2019 Freisa di Monferrato “Monfiorenza” is a modestly priced, joy-filled wine with massive heart, made by maybe the happiest Italian man I’ve ever met, Giovanni Rava, and his lovely family. I never thought Freisa could be so seductive and delicious! 2021 seems to be its equal as well! (Sadly, they forwent on bottling any 2020 because of market concerns due to extensive shutdown periods in Italy during Covid.) Fletcher 2019 Barbaresco Roncaglie is a new bottling for Dave, and all of his 2019 Barbaresco wines are extremely impressive. Faset and Starderi were stunners on their own, but Roncaglie ran away with it—not surprisingly, given that the fruit all came from Poderi Colla! Poderi Colla 2019 Barbaresco Roncaglie is unquestionably in the top 3 wines of the trip, possibly the top wine for me. It’s far too good for the price and will surely be one of the greatest wines we will have imported since our start in 2010. Fliederhof 2020 Santa Magdalener “Gaia” is a mega-breakthrough Schiava made with 100% whole clusters and almost no extraction. It scored extremely high on both my pleasure and seriousness meters. The young Martin Ramoser is nailing it and he’s got a few more years to go before he even crosses thirty. Problem is that we will only get 48 bottles… Andrea Picchioni in one of his Buttafuoco vineyards Picchioni 2018 Buttafuoco dell'Oltrepò Pavese “Riva Bianca” has more X-factor than the entire Marvel Universe. Our San Diego representative, Tyler Kavanaugh had cartoon eyes popping out of his head through this entire visit. Andrea Picchioni drove it home with exquisite bottles of 1999 & 2010 Riva Bianca. One day, people will realize that Picchioni is the Mega to the late Maga. RIP Lino. We were lucky to meet Lino a year before his passing. He was much sweeter than any of us expected based on the stories told. Monti Perini 2019 Bramaterra wasn’t bottled yet and possibly will not be labeled with the Bramaterra appellation because it’s in too perfect of a moment and hasn’t yet had its mandatory time in wood required by the appellation. The 2017 and 2018 may be just as good as the 2019. This trio of wines was enlightening. Sadly, Andrea lost everything to Mother Nature in both 2020 and 2021. Almost throwing in the towel, I convinced him that our industry would support him through these times. We do our best for the little guy! Davide Carlone 2019 Boca “Adele” wasn’t bottled yet, but the tastings out of botte were riveting. Some of the best wines of the trip were in this cellar. Carlone is crazy in the best way, and with Cristiano Garella advising in the cellar, he will be one of Piemonte’s best, rivaling the biggest names further south in the Langhe. Enrico Togni’s 2021 Martina Erbanno Rosato out of concrete vat. Enrico’s cellar is rustic and he flies by the seat of his pants, but what comes out of those vats seem like miracles. Special guy, special wines. This pink wine is as serious as it gets for rosé with unique character and less enological polish. Sadly, its quantities are severely limited. Wechsler 2021 Kirchspiel Riesling Kabinett, is a savagely delicious and sharp new Riesling from this multifaceted talent! Unfortunately, there are only 20 cases coming in for the entire US. Our visit with Katharina revealed so many simply delicious and very complex wines within her natural wine range, “Cloudy by Nature,” and her classical dry Riesling range. Now, we have to add her wholloping knock-out-of-the-park Kirchspiel Kabinett (and Morstein Spätlese!) as another major success. Five wines from her could’ve made this list. (I’ll let you know more about them when they are closer to our shores.) Xesteiriña 2020 Albariño, a crackling laser beam shooting from a plank of igneous and metamorphic rock, is a fabulous new project in Rías Baixas that’s going to shake it up! Again, too few bottles to be had by all. Quinta da Carolina 2021 Xis Amarelo tasted out of barrel may also be top 3 of the trip. Somehow Luis (whose day job is the winemaker for Dirk Niepoort’s still wine range since about five or six years—post Luis Seabra) is channeling some major red Burgundian juju: think Mugnier and Fourrier birthing a schist Amarelo baby from the Douro. Everything tasted out of barrel from Luis was superstar material and there could be more wines from him on the list too. Also too limited! Mateus Nicolau de Almeida’s Porto Branco. Never did I imagine a Port wine would make my top 15! Theresa and Mateus’s (pictured further above) wines channel their openness to let terroir and vintage fully speak, and this is one of the things that makes them so special. Authenticity at its peak is found inside this quirky, fun-loving duo and their deeply minerally, savory Douro wines. Being in their company made me think a little more deeply about my place in the world, and I truly believe it would do the same for anyone.