I used to be suspicious of wine labels that were basically not much more than eye candy. And, anytime I’d hear people say that they purchased wine because they liked the label I could feel my eyes involuntarily roll. Because winemakers who were serious about the juice inside the bottle would not be caught dead with a label that in any way deflected attention from the wine itself, I could be pretty certain that while a boring label might not mean good an artistic one most of the time meant yuck.
Enter Dashe Cellars. In 1996, when Mike and Anne Dashe started their venture, they told the designer they wanted a label that was kind of surrealistic and showed her some Chagall paintings to use as guidance. Anne described them as going on a journey. Knowing that Anne was from Riec sur Belon, a fishing village in Brittany, and Mike was from Tarzana, she came up with a fish with a monkey on its back. The Dashe’s had to tweak it in 1999 and changed the name on the label from “Dashe Cellars” to “Dashe,” but it has otherwise remained the same.
Mas del Perie “You Fuck My Wine”
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a lot of French wine labels with all sorts of things from explicit sexual acts that you won’t find here because they would never get the approval of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Trade Bureau, to images from 1980’s video games. Usually, these wines are Vin de France, which replaced Vin de Table in 2010. You can read more about that here but in a nutshell, as AOC boards have shunned wines for not being “typical,” or up to the supposed standard, rejected producers have taken matters into their own hands, bottling their wines as VDF and giving them irreverent labels. Fabien Jouves “You Fuck My Wine” is a glaring example of this though mostly in the name.
Montevertine “Le Pergole Torte”
Artistic wine labels are not new to France, as anyone who is familiar with Chateau Mouton Rothchild knows. Since 1945, Mouton has commissioned famous painters from Picasso to Keith Haring to create its labels. Montevertine in Italy uses watercolors of women’s face by Alberto Manfredi on its flagship, “Le Pergola Torte.” In California, Sine Qua Non has had different labels made for all of its wines since its first vintage in 1994. All three of these producers are expensive and highly respected, so artistry on the bottle has never been a stigma. Yet for more modest wines, attention-grabbing labels have been viewed with skepticism by many of my comrades, until now. So what’s changed?
’12 Jolie Laide Trousseau Gris
Instead of regarding more creative labels as gimmicky or déclassé, newer generations of winemakers look at it as a way to define their identity and distinguish their wines. “There’s a lot of great wine out there now and how are you going to differentiate yourself from other wines that are pretty fucking good?” says Scott Schultz, whose Jolie Laide wines have some of the most original labels you’ll find on the shelves. When Scott started Jolie Laide he went simple, with a clean black and white font but in 2013 he switched to beautiful hand drawings of naked women that surprisingly enough, were green-lighted by the ATTB.
Jolie Laide Grenache/Syrah 2012
In 2014, he changed the motif again, this time opting for images of mounted butterflies. For him, a wine changes with every vintage so the label should as well. “I like a lot of different types of art. People need change. The big companies try to make them the same, but we should celebrate that they are different every year.”
The current releases, the 2014 Pinot Gris, 2014 Trousseau Gris and 2013 Grenache/Syrah, have images of daguerreotypes that he got through the Library of Congress. He matched them up with a gothic font and while they are no doubt a little creepy, they are also tasteful and show that thought was put into the label, which might lead the consumer to think the same about the wine itself. Granted I know Jolie Laide’s wines and have had numerous conversations with Scott about his labels so I have insights to the packaging that most people don’t but I’m still impressed with his ability to come up with innovative labels every year that are anything but tacky.
Jolie Laide Daguerreotypes
Besides Dashe and Jolie Laide, other very good California producers including Dirty & Rowdy, Hobo Wine Company and Lang & Reed have gone in a similar direction. And as said, there are many wine labels in Europe that are striking.
Of course we should never judge a book by its cover. Ultimately, you’re drinking the wine, not the paper glued to the bottle, but it’s good to know that more of that eye candy has some pretty good substance inside.
Every year the Oxford Dictionary, as well as similar loquacious tomes, adds new words to the English language. Some of the most recent ones include “vape,“amazeballs ” and a personal favorite, “douchebaggery.” However, when it comes to wine, they are behind. Here are a few I use pretty frequently in case you are not sure what I’m talking about sometimes.
Come Fuck Me Wine: noun A specific wine that is used as an excuse or ploy to seduce someone.
Ex. “Hey, don’t you want to come over, watch some movies and drink this ’85 Emidio Pepe with me, Lucy baby?”
In this case, the Emidio Pepe in the question is a CFMW. I’m sure you get it; pick your example.
Enoslob: noun A person who opens a lot of bottles and uses multiple glasses but doesn’t clean up after him/herself in the process.
Ex. “Jesus Christ, that enoslob went out to dinner and left me with a massive mess to deal with after the tasting.”
Enoslop: noun Someone who turns into a sloppy drunk from drinking wine.
Ex. “Wow, Ethel was super polluted on Sunday, she could barely say her name. What an enoslop.”
It can be made into an adjective by adding “py” at the end.
Ex. “Ricky was so enosloppy last night that he could barely order an Uber.”
Swamp Water: noun A derogative term for a wine that is so flawed that it smells and tastes like it originated in a swamp.
Ex. “I’m all about a little funk but that stuff is swamp water.”
Wine Anti-social: 1) noun/adverb Someone who gets very quiet when he/she drinks wine.
Ex. “Everyone had a lot to say at the sherry tasting but not Ethel; she was wine anti-social.”
2) adj A person who does not enjoy socializing in a wine oriented setting or with people who talk incessantly about wine. Here’s a real life example.
“No, I’m not going to the tasting at Ruby tomorrow, I’m pretty wine anti-social.” Or:
“I can’t deal with Fred’s babbling tonight, I’m feeling too wine anti-social.”
Wine Nazi: This can be prefixed with “natural wine Nazi,” or changed to a more specific type of fanaticism such as “oak Nazi.” It refers to someone who is dogmatic, maybe even narrow-minded about a particular attribute of wine. He/she is often incapable of being objectively critical and may be taking a stance just for the sake of creating an argument.
Ex. “Ricky is such a sulphur Nazi that he thinks can smell it in Lapierre.”
However, it is not always meant in a disparaging context.
Ex. “Fred is such a sulphur Nazi, there is no way he’d buy that if it had more than ten parts per million.”
Wine Stupidadj A person who buys a lot of shitty expensive wine. We all know people like this. No need to cite an example. OK, here’s one:
“That wine stupid dude just spent $250 a bottle on Napa Cab made from six year old vines fermented in 100% new oak.”
These are just a few. More to come. If you have any of your own, please do share.
Nearly all of my wine friends – industry or not – use Delectable. Not only does it have a massive database but also, users can share their wine experiences with their followers. Since I’m still trying to wrap my own head around it, I invited Julia Weinberg, who leads creative development and industry relations at Delectable, to join me in a conversation about this ever popular wine app and why I should be using it. Several wines Julia makes under the Mossik Cellars label will lubricate the discussion. I tried the Cabernet Franc once before and it tasted like Chinon so even if you know less about Delectable than I do, the wines in themselves should be worth it.
Anyone who knows me knows this much: I never get to the airport early but last week I was pretty anxious to get out of town, so I found myself at SFO (San Francisco Int’l Airport) with an hour and a half to kill before take-off. With a stack of old New Yorkers in my bag, I opted to forego the usual trashy magazine browsing and instead see what was new at Napa Farms Market. After cruising by the cheeses, I entered the shared border with Vino Volo, an airport wine bar chain based in San Francisco. It was here that I noticed something a little surprising: Pacalet Nuits-Saint-Georges.
Philippe Pacalet makes some of the most unique wines in Burgundy – love them or not – and this precious juice is fairly scarce. When his wines first hit our shores a lot of buyers were afraid to carry them because they were so different.[i] You were and still are most likely to see them in places with a penchant for natural wines or Burgundy specialists.
Vino Volo’s national sourcing manager selects a lot of the same wines for all of its locations so it is not a venue where I would have expected to find small production, naturally made wines from Europe. While it’s not all about Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, I wouldn’t say its wine list is pushing the envelope. So what was Pacalet doing at SFO, or putting it another way, is it a bad thing that Pacalet, and a few others of a similar ilk, are now available through Vino Volo? And, not to equate Vino Volo with box retailers, but there was also a Pacalet sighting at Costco in San Francisco last year (although the California importer, Return to Terroir, did not sell it to them), but why should anyone mind?
Yet, buyers at boutique wine shops, wine bars and restaurants can get pretty perturbed when they hear about allocated wines they’ve supported for several vintages turning up at chains, especially discounters (which being an airport retailer, Vino Volo most certainly is not).
There are a few sides to this. If you pride yourself on carrying artisan wines that are only available for niche retailers, and then something you’ve been working with for a couple of years shows up on the shelves in a less discerning venue, it can put your reputation at risk, not to mention the producer’s.
This is one of the reasons why Aran Healy, who owns Ruby Wine, does not work with distributors who sell to Whole Foods, his biggest competitor in Potrero Hill. Healy believes that while Whole Foods does a good job selecting wine for a grocery store it is not providing its customers with the education they need to appreciate most of the wines he carries, which are 99% organic and made with minimal intervention. “With these wines they need to be talked about and shared and explained with the customers and I have a firm belief that not all wines should be taken off the shelf without knowing something about them.”
However, Devon Broglie, MS, the Associate Global Beverage Buyer for Whole Foods, argues that the Whole Foods wine departments do provide knowledge and education. “Our specialists pride themselves on being intimately familiar with every wine they carry, with the same pride and integrity that an owner of a wine shop would. I think that is what is unique about Whole Foods. They are engaged with the products they sell.”
Even among small retailers, it is not a black and white issue. Like Ruby, Lou Wine Shop & Tastings in Los Angeles specializes in natural wines. For owner, Lou Amdur, It makes him “uncomfortable” to hear from wine reps about other venues that are carrying the same wines “but,” he also acknowledges, “that’s a function of my own vulnerabilities. I cling, pathetically, to the fairytale that I’m special, that everyone is a star, even while knowing full well that I did not grow the wine, and I am simply a conduit, a middleman.”
So what is wrong with making wines – no matter how esoteric or unconventional – accessible to more people than the usual suspects of wine geeks in urban areas? As an importer or distributor are you not doing your client, the winemaker, a disservice if you don’t try to expand their market?
Also, while several merchants might have been supportive of a winery when it first hit the market, does that mean that they should perpetually be allowed to have the same quantity they received in past vintages, when the demand has grown?
Richard Aspillera, the Associate Manager at Vino Volo at SFO, discovered Pacalet through friends in the wine industry. Since each location can fill “open slots” at its discretion, he got in touch with Return to Terroir and brought some of their wines into the bar. “We strive to find small production, natural, organic and sustainable wines that get people excited to bring home with them. We can’t speak for our other locations, but we do find that our customers are looking for wines that fulfill that criteria.” And, he sees where this trend is growing. “Customers are more informed today than ever, and they do come back looking for these particular selections at our store.”
“If a chain can make a good business case for selling natural wine, more power to them,” Amdur says, yet he admits, “I do see natural wines that I work with on close out at a chain or online retailer, and I know these wines are delicious, sound, and not faulty, so my only thought is that the venue didn’t know what to do with that wine.”
Echoing a similar sentiment, Healy says, “I’m all for natural wine being available for everyone, but with wines that are made of a certain caliber, there has got to be a little more discretion.” Not familiar with Vino Volo, he doesn’t feel he can comment on whether or not it is a good fit for the wines he buys but what irks him is when he sees natural wines going to venues that look upon them as trophy wines rather than appreciating them for the painstaking efforts that went into their creation. And, taking this a step further, Healy would say that is not doing a service to the winemaker at all but a sign of disrespect.
But, not all boutique wine store buyers agree. “It doesn’t bother me at all as a retailer knowing the same wine is at K&L or somewhere else for a dollar less because I know how hard it is for the producers to sell their wine in general,” says Ian Becker, the Wine Director for The Absinthe Group, which owns Arlequin Wine Merchant.
Arlequin Wine Merchant
And this brings up pricing, which is another concern because large retailers and chains with hefty buying power can undercut smaller shops. Becker continues, “I used to be concerned and think you don’t want to have supermarket wines in your store but then I’d go to Whole Foods and see the same wines from Beaune (Beaune Imports) and Kermit (Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant) and wonder why the pricing was lower than ours but over time I realized we’re not really competing with them because we offer a different kind of service.”
As is true of Ruby and Lou, Arlequin’s customers have the more intimate experience of a top-notch wine shop with proper storage, experienced staff and not least, the opportunity to taste or drink a glass of wine while they shop.
There is not a right or wrong, just opinions and beliefs that influence the way people do business with suppliers and choose wines for their stores. Having traveled and worked with Healy, I know how much effort he has put into making Ruby a premier wine shop, in the way that Amdur has with Lou, Becker has with Arlequin and countless other wine merchants have over time. I can also appreciate, first hand, how frustrating it can be when as a buyer you take a risk and put a lot of effort into working with something esoteric or cutting edge, only to find that they are then placed nearby with a competitor, especially one that you may not feel shares your standards. But, I also applaud Aspillera for broadening Vino Volo beyond the “same old.” The suppliers are in the middle of this, so I’ve asked a few of them for their thoughts.
Nadia Dmitriw, Partner, Joli Vin Imports
“When we start a relationship with a new producer in France and choose to represent their wines half way across the world in California, that person’s individual story is just as important and interesting to us as how the grapes are farmed, how the wine is made and how the wine tastes. We have a natural affinity with shops that share that philosophy and will help us communicate that information to the consumer. And, as Aran Healy points out, in some cases, taking an esoteric wine home without being informed about it can ultimately be a disservice to the producer, the wine, and the consumer.
That said, we also work with many wines that are quite simply well made, delicious wines (that also happen to be smaller production and farmed organically and made with minimal intervention) and they can be completely enjoyed on their own, independent of whether someone is familiar with the back-story or not. And for those wines, I do see potential benefits of working with larger retailers who could help us gain a wider audience while providing more and better choices to that audience.”
Josh Eubank, Proprietor, Percy Selections
“With respect to the broader question of compatibility of artisan winemakers with big box stores (or chain grocers), I think it comes down to a political choice. I would propose that the way value is produced by a small, family-owned winery is fundamentally different than a corporate chain like Whole Foods. Which is to say that for most artisan vignerons, the price of a bottle is a direct reflection of the cost of land and labor power.
Politically speaking, it makes more sense for these type of wines to be purveyed by independent and decentralized cavistes than by conglomerates of investors.”
Matthew Plympton, Partner, Revel Wine
“It is a fine line that we as wine sellers walk when it comes to who we sell wine to. I certainly don’t want to jeopardize our own relationship with these boutique shops in SF, but we need to find more outlets for where we sell these wines as the producers’ case productions grow.
While we rely heavily on the Ordinaires and Ruby Wines of the region to get producers like Lo-Fi, Roark, Forlorn Hope up and running, at some point we need more supporters, especially at retail, for diversification of the market. Since there aren’t any natural wine shops outside of urban areas like SF, Oakland and LA we need to look to companies like Whole Foods and VinoVolo to help with getting the wines in front of consumers who may not even know those shops exist.”
Raphael Knapp, Proprietor, Return to Terroir
“I did have doubts when one of our reps told me about the possibility to sell to Vino Volo because it was not a traditional client for us. I made the decision to sell for several reasons.
1) I don’t believe in preaching only to the choir. Keeping the best wines to a small list of happy few is nonsense to me.
2)The buyer came to us with an interest in natural wines. I decided to reward his passion for natural wines. We need more ambassadors of natural wines to make our world better, not less.
3) We made sure that the wine wasn’t going to be discounted. We are very strict with that policy and have cut off clients who didn’t respect our rules.
4) People always complain about the lack of choices at airports. Wouldn’t be great if you could find some of your favorite natural wines at the airport, instead of the usual ocean of mediocrity?”
[i] Pacalet’s red wines are whole cluster fermented, a method that is much more common in Beaujolais, where he is from, than in Burgundy.
Last month I brought an orange wine to a dinner with a few friends, including a couple with two young kids. Anyone who has children knows that they don’t leave a ton of time for much else, so one of the parents, who has always been one step removed from San Francisco’s wine and food community, was thrilled when I pulled out Dario Princic’s Jakot. Having never tasted an orange wine she was pretty amazed.
While orange wine is trendy in certain circles, many people still have no idea that such a thing exists. Hardly a new invention, it was made by the ancient Georgians – and I’m not talking about Jimmy Carter and Newt Gingrich – and Armenians, before white wine, as we know it, existed. It is created by fermenting white grapes with their skins and seeds, and sometimes stems as well. The process might last for just a few hours or for months. Like red grapes, white grapes are not all the same color, so some such as Pinot Gris that is copper skinned, usually take on a pinkish hue.
In spite of its name orange wine is not just about its color. The skins add tannin, giving the wines texture as well as anti-oxidants. I haven’t heard anyone claim that drinking orange wine is as good for your health as red wine and since I’m not a scientist I won’t speculate, but I wonder.
Grape skins also add aroma and flavor. This is not to say that white wines that are not skin fermented are lesser beings or that all orange wines are inherently complex, but when it is good, orange wine have a unique intricacy.
While the Caucasus might be the birthplace, eastern Friuli and Slovenia have become hotbeds for skin fermented white wines. From a wine perspective, there is an artificial border between the two areas as basically the same grapes are grown and stylistically, there are similarities. This has as much to do with history as it does with geography.
Under the Hapsburg Empire, the area was called the “Austrian Littoral” and white grapes dominated the landscape. It was decimated during WWI and, with the remapping of Europe, flew under the Italian flag. Now part of a red wine dominated country, the winemakers adopted the method of skin fermentation for white wine production. There was not much time to rebuild before the Second World War broke out, wreaking havoc on the land yet again. After WWII, the western part stayed in Italy but Slovenia and Croatia were absorbed by Yugoslavia. Skin fermenting white wine continued during the second half of the 20th century but as Italy “modernized,” traditional winemaking, on many fronts, was abandoned. During this time, winemaking suffered in Yugoslavia with much of it being state run until the 1990s.
While many Italian producers were hell bent on a more international style of winemaking using a lot of oak, or in the case of the whites, stripping them down to a vapid crispness, a small cadre of producers in Oslavia and Collio went in the opposite direction and started making skin fermented white wines. Josko Gravner and Stanislao Radikon have received the most attention and credit for pioneering this movement, but Dario Princic was there in the early days, too and has been hugely influential, if not as famous.
Orange Wine from Dario Prince
Princic worked in his family vineyards as a child so he knows the land well. He’s been farming 17 acres without the use of synthetic chemicals since 1988. While not certified he practices organic and some aspects of biodynamic viticulture and winemaking. All harvesting is done by hand. He uses native yeast and does not fine or filter, or temperature control his wines.
Princic deliberately keeps a low profile. Don’t try to find his website; it doesn’t exist. His wines have been out of sight throughout much of the United States but Gran Fondo Wine Company, based in Los Angeles, now imports them and the Vine Collective in New York has been working with Princic for several years.
This was the said wine that popped my friend’s orange wine cherry. The grapes come from a 60-year-old vineyard planted on clay, limestone and marl. It spent 22 days on its skins in open top chestnut fermenters and was aged in older large and small barrels and botte for two years. Texturally, it reminded me of red plums. With notes of orange pekoe tea, apricot skins, lemon and faint floral tones, the varietal character of Friuliano rears its lovely head. While young, a half hour in a decanter should bring it to life pretty quickly. Ideally, I’d wait until 2021 before having another bottle but if another one came my way before then, I’d be happy to drink it.
For all those who think Pinot Grigio is beneath their “sophisticated” palates, check this Ramato out. Fermented on its skins for eight days in open top fermenters, it has a beautiful rose-colored hue but looking at it is just a fraction of the fun. The acidity is great and coupled with the texture from the skins, it captures the palate without imprisoning it in an acridic grip. Laden with hibiscus, almond and mineral tones, there is a lot to love already but should start soaring in a couple of years.
Making Ribolla Gialla is a point of pride for many Friulian producers. Some would say it is their signature. I’d stake my cat’s life on it that this one is going to be awesome in a few years but it was very tightly wound when I tried it. Maybe it was a root day or my allergies were acting up. A tricky vintage, it has a load of acidity and with a compact core of minerals, it is just a matter of time before this wine goes through a metamorphosis.
Have you ever wondered if ancient aliens, who some believe held the key to the mysteries of the universe, planted specific grapes in certain areas? No? Me neither but no doubt, Riesling marked its territory in the Mosel and if you ever forget this, its mesmerizing slate scented wines will remind you over and over again. Pomerol can convert the most virulent Merlot haters and, like so many of us who came from elsewhere, Zinfandel is pretty happy it had a one-way ticket to California.
12,000 year old UFO drawings found in French caves
Burgundy births arguably the most complex wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This is not to say that there aren’t versions made in California, Oregon and New Zealand that can reach great heights but even the cuvées that reign from Burgundy’s lesser appellations often have that little ‘somethin’ somethin’ that sets them apart from their compatriots elsewhere.
From appellation to appellation, and vineyard to vineyard, there are differences in Burgundy’s terroir. That is part of what makes the region so mystical. Yet as a rule, limestone and clay dominate the soil, contouring the textures and flavors of the grapes.
Last month, we tasted red wines from the Côtes de Beaune. That was spectacular and set a very high bar for this March’s “Old and The Restless” white Burgundy tasting. But, the blancs rose to the challenge.
In total, there were nine wines tasted blind in flights of three. Someone else numbered the bags so while I knew which wines were in the mix, I was not sure of the order. There were just eight of us this time, as three people had to cancel, and though nearly everyone was pretty knowledgeable, no one else at the tasting works in the wine industry.
Founded in the early 20th century by Etienne Sauzet, this domain is now run by his son-in-law, Gérard Boudot and increasingly, Boudot’s daughter Emilie and her husband, Benoit Riffault, who is from a Loire Valley wine family. Today, the domaine has 23 acres under vine and has been run according to organic (2006) and biodynamic (2010) principles for several years.
Les Combettes is typically aged in 33% new wood but Sauzet’s wines rarely seem over-oaked, even when they are newbies. Now, at nearly 14 years old, this 1er cru is completely integrated and seamless with honey-covered almonds and buttered brioche interwoven with searing minerality. Some of the other tasters noticed crème brulee, quince and pear-like flavors. The first wine of the tasting is often one of the best but in this case I don’t think it was just because our palates were primed and ready to go.
Most famous for its Grand Cru “Clos de la Roche,” Ponsot also does a great job with the two white wines made at the domaine. Composed of 80% Aligoté and 20% Chardonnay, it is one of the few Côtes de Nuits whites that can go head to head with the best from the Côtes de Beaune. The vineyard was planted in 1911, after phylloxera wiped out much of the land, and the Ponsot family was among the few who stayed loyal to Aligoté, which was considered far less noble than Chardonnay.
Fermented with native yeast in tank at first, it was finished in barrel and bottled without fining, filtration or additional sulfur. Although showing signs of maturity, it’s a keeper. If I had it blind I’d probably peg it for a young Jura Chardonnay instead as it has signs of minor signs of oxidation with hazelnut and a spiced apple sauce character yet it was balanced and had a long finish. Most in the group were not as into as I was (although one person totally dug it) and found it to be a little simple and lacking terroir which, per my Jura comparison, is true. Still, I found it enjoyable and appreciated its uniqueness.
Estimated Age: About 15 years old
Estimated Price: $50
3) Gagnard Delagrange Grand Cru Batard Montrachet, 1996 ($130)
Gagnard-Delagrange was born with the marriage in 1959 of Jacques Gagnard and Josephe Delagrange, two known Burgundy families. Burgundy is famous for going through “dumb” phases but at this point I would expect a grand cru from such a revered vintage and producer to have more going on. I don’t like dissing wines when I write but the sulfur was very noticeable in the nose and the oak is still pretty prominent. There is nice acidity giving me reason to think it might bloom one day and there is always bottle variation so I’d give it the benefit of the doubt and have another go round in a few years.
Estimated Age: Young, ten years.
Estimated Price: $55
4) François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru “Genevrières,” 2002 ($100)
Although his son, Antoine, now runs the domaine, Françoise still garners immense respect. One of the most gracious and humble winemakers I’ve met, he has become an elder statesman in the region and his Meursaults, which are distinct yet classic, have both power and grace. Genevrières is a tiny, 1.3-acre parcel and at the time these grapes were picked the vines were about 20 years old. Jobard has always fermented and aged in oak barrels and worked with native yeast.
Rich but with a firm chord of acidity, the ’02 Genevrières is showing very well now but I think it still has a way to go. With marzipan, brioche, hazelnuts, honey tinged stone fruit and hints of anise and sassafras, it is especially generous in the nose. One person said, “If I could propel the nose though my house I would gladly do it.” Genevrières scented candles might be pricy but probably worth it. Some in the group noticed tropical underpinnings and one person said it reminded him of the soft cough drops we were given as children. Honestly, I was not at all surprised when this one was unveiled.
Before the tasting began, I recalled trying the ’69 Leroy Meursault “Charmes” in 1999 that was amazingly youthful. Knowing it was someone in the batting order, I had high hopes for a repeat performance from Leroy and while they were not born out, it was nonetheless, very good.
Right off the bat it smelled like French toast, with spicy agave-like notes. Rich on the palate with vanilla, toasted hazelnuts and stewed apples, it had Meursault character but lacked the length and depth of the previous wine. The group had a similar impression. A few people commented that it seemed like it has a lot of good stuff going on – honeysuckle, apricot and apple cider – and that there was a rounded character to the fruit. It may very well need another decade or so but given a choice between spending $130 here or $100 on Jobard’s Genevrières, I’d go for the latter
Estimated Age: An older, hot year
Estimated Price: $80
6) Chandon de Briailles Grand Cru Corton Blanc, 2004 ($95)
For as far back as I can remember Chandon de Briailles has been one of the top estates in Corton and the Grand Cru Corton Blanc is one of the reasons why. It is sourced from three small Chardonnay plots with the bulk coming from Corton Bressandes, which is renowned for its grand cru reds.
The overall favorite wine of the tasting, nearly everyone guessed that this was one of the younger wines. It was a little tight at first but opened up after a few minutes and kept on giving. Someone said they found it to be linear, which I agreed with, but not as complex as the others. I think that is just a product of its relative youth. Floral and minerally with a flint like aroma, fresh pears and sizzling acidity, one person summed it up best, “It is a very nice wine with a ways to go.”
Vougeot is one of the last places where you would expect to find white wine but a handful of producers get down and dirty with Chardonnay in this Pinot Noir dominated appellation. It was founded by Claude Bertagna after WWII and sold to Günther Reh, a German winemaker, in 1982. His daughter, Eva Reh Siddle, is now at the helm.
“Les Cras” is a premier cru grown to both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is now organically farmed and hand harvested but I can’t swear that was true in 2003.
This one lacked a little acidity and that could have a lot to do with the vintage. It was high on the butterscotch and caramel notes but had some mineral underpinnings with an array of fruit. We all agreed that it seemed a little tired but still came in third place, perhaps because of its exuberant charm.
Michel Colin started this now legendary winery with holdings from both sides of his family, the Colins and the Delegers. Both clans have deep roots in Chassagne-Montrachet, which often translates into great holdings and that is most definitely the case here. Les Chenevottes is very close to the grand cru “Le Montrachet” and is often considered one of the top premier crus. On the positive, this 12.5 year old has the acidity to continue evolving. It has a dominant trio of apple, butterscotch and minerals that might morph into something pretty special one day. However, it also has a noticeable amount of sulfur. I’m not super militant about SO2 additions however in this case, I felt it really distracted from an otherwise very sound wine.
I never believed in love at first sight until I had a wine from Jean-Noel Gagnard. It was the 1990 Les Caillerets, consumed at the Flying Saucer, a trailblazing restaurant at the time and while it was not an obvious pairing, sometimes it really doesn’t matter.
Gagnard started the label in 1960 using land that had been in his family for three generations. In 1989, his daughter, Caroline Lestimé took over and she has been running it since. “Les Caillerets” is one of the original premier crus in Chassagne-Montrachet, anointed with the title in 1855. In spite of the challenges of 2003, the various wines I’ve had from Gagnard from the vintage have been at the top of the pack. One person got a big whiff of alcohol in the nose, plausible considering the heat yet it was not only balanced but also had noticeably good acidity. Mineral driven with citrus – as someone commented, grapefruit pith – and a little bit of caramel from the oak, it should be at its prime in another three – five years.
Estimated Age: Ten years
Estimated Price: $75 – $80
Group Wine Rankings
1st Place: Chandon de Briailles Grand Cru Corton Blanc, 2004
Let’s face it, Long Island is probably best known for its iced tea, which is not iced tea at all but a nauseating potion of five different liquors that is sure to get you hammered in ten seconds flat. However, if you hop on the LIE (Long Island Expressway) and get off at one of the last few exits, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a thriving wine region.
This may not be news to a lot of you but slowly, the North and South Forks are growing up. Instead of trying to make wines that fit a certain mold, several wineries have opted to champion the terroir and work in a more natural manner, eschewing synthetics in the vineyards and using indigenous yeast during fermentation. Channing Daughters in Southampton started dabbling in this direction after Christopher Tracy came on as the winemaker in 2001. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to visit them during my recent NY sojourns as I’ve stayed in the North Fork, but I was able to check out Shinn and Southold, two sustainable producers that are making some of the finest juice I’ve yet to try from New York state.
Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse
Barbara Shinn and David Page are Midwesterners who met in the Bay Area in the 1980s. Shinn was pursuing an MFA at the California College of Arts and David was cooking at Masa’s and Postrio, a couple of the hottest restaurants in San Francisco at the time. In the early 90’s, they moved to New York and opened up their own place, “Home.” A couple of offshoots followed, “Home Away from Home” and “Drover’s Tap Room,” but Shinn and Page were getting tired of city living and high rents. And, that was when a $1500 studio apartment in the East Village seemed expensive! In 1998, they pulled a Green Acres, and bought an old farmhouse in Mattituck.
They knew they wanted to grow in an environmentally friendly way so Barbara read all she could find on the subject. Unbeknownst to her at first, a lot of they were doing in the vineyard were biodynamic practices. During the first five years, they did all the pruning with their own four hands. Everything was and is still done manually. The learning curve was huge, and Barbara admits, they had to get around the “problem of imposing yourself on the land instead of having the land guide you.”
Barbara Shinn, Compost at Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse
If you’ve spent any time in Montauk or the Hamptons you know that eastern Long Island is quite sandy. Technically, it is known as “haven soil.” Specifically, Shinn has a foot and a half of sandy topsoil over gravel. Unlike California, lack of rain is hardly ever a problem. Also, while the winters can be very cold – as anyone who has not been living under a rock over the last few months is aware of – the summers are hot and it stays very warm at night.
After two years of gaining a better appreciation for their terroir and creating a healthy ecosystem, Shinn and Page planted 20 acres of vines. Today, there are over 50 species of plants grown on the property. While they are not Demeter certified, a nearly impossible achievement on Long Island because of downy mildew, they largely follow biodynamic principles both in the vineyard and winery.
The original plan was to sell the fruit to other wineries but that business model didn’t make much sense so they took the plunge and turned a 125 year old barn into a wind and solar powered winery.
Since the beginning, Shinn has fermented with native yeast and sulfur additions have been minimized over time. “The longer you keep a wine away from sulfur,” Page says, “the healthier it is going to be.” We tasted a 2014 Merlot that spent 60 days on its skins which had yet to see any SO2 that was super clean and fresh, with a very pure expression that reminded me of right bank Bordeaux.
Late Fall Pruning at Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse
Since Shinn’s production is small, they do not sell outside of New York but the wines can be purchased through the website.
Shinn “Coalescence,” 2013 ($16)
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling, this zesty wine is perfect for ‘hot fun in the summer time.’ Seriously, turn on a fire hydrant and dance barefoot with a glass in hand. No, don’t do that, at least not in a city. Fermented in stainless steel tank, it did not undergo malolactic fermentation so it is crisp and snappy, with grapefruit leading the way.
Shinn Chardonnay, 2013 ($20)
This unoaked, non-malolactic Chardonnay may not appeal to people who prefer the rich, oaky variation but plenty of others will dig it, for sure. It underwent a 30-day ferment and spent eight months on its lees so there is some texture but it is also crisp with tropical and mineral notes.
Shinn Pinot Blanc, 2013 ($35)
Left on its skins for three days before fermentation in old 500 liter puncheons and then aged on its lees for 15 months and bottled unfiltered, the Pinot Blanc has a lot of character. Admittedly, it is a personal favorite, with floral overtones, apples, almonds, a touch of honey, waxy notes and a decidedly long finish.
Shinn “Haven,” 2012 ($36)
Eighty five percent Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Semillon, “Haven” takes its cue from the great wines of Graves and Pessac Léognan. It was aged on its skins before fermentation in new French oak. The wood is apparent in the nose but it does not overwhelm the minerality and almond honey notes. In a couple of years, when the oak integrates, it should be rocking.
Shinn Red Blend, NV ($16)
Composed of the five Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot), this is a non-vintage blend because wine from the previous harvest is added to the cuvée. Light but not thin, with cinnamon and porcinis, it was more Cabernet Franc-like than anything in December – and that is always a good thing in my book.
Shinn “Wild Boar Doe,” 2011 ($32)
“Wild Boar Doe” is, as the name suggests, another Bordeaux blend, but it spent more time in wood than the Red Blend and I suspect, there is less Cabernet Franc though all five grapes were used. Spicy with violets, blueberries and cocoa, and a fair bit of tannin, you can drink it now but ideally, give it another year or three to fan out some more.
Shinn Cabernet Franc, 2012 ($38)
I’d really like to revisit this one in five years. It has great bones – lots of fruit, structure and good acidity – but it needs time. However, I have faith. Only 175 cases were made and at $38 I actually think it is a good investment in what might be one of the best Cab Francs to come from Long Island, thus far.
Shinn Nine Barrels Reserve Merlot, 2012 ($32)
Nine barrels translates to 225 cases. C’est tout, no mas made. It has a splash of Petit Verdot, adding acidity and aroma that might come out even more somewhere down the road. Aged in 50% new oak, I was expecting a lot more wood in the nose but instead it was exuding black fruits and humus (dirt).
Shinn “Grace,” 2007 ($75)
Composed of 2/3 Cabernet Franc and 1/3 Merlot from the best parcels, “Grace” is one Shinn’s flagships. It was aged in new French oak but seven years later, the wood was just part of the supporting cast. The first thing I noticed was a hint of truffle (the fungi kind) in the nose, followed by black fruits, spice and bittersweet chocolate. Texturally, it is enjoyable too, with a moutful of velvety fruit tannin.
Shinn “Clarity,” 2007 ($100)
The complement to Grace, “Clarity” is made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Also aged in new French oak, it may have been a beast in the not too distant past but is somewhat approachable now with herbal and licorice tinged mocha-covered blackberries. Some people will love its present state while those who can be patient are going really enjoy what it is likely to become later in this decade.
Regan and Carey Meador were also city folk, sort of, when they moved to Southold, which is all the way east on the North Fork. They met in Manhattan where Regan was involved in the music world and Carey worked in advertising. She had actually grown up in this area and her family lives nearby so the move was not as drastic as it may sound. They cut their teeth with stints at Osprey’s Dominion and the Lenz Winery and bought an old 24-acre property with a farmhouse from the 1800’s in need of a little TLC. With assistance from Carey’s father, Steve, the renovation began.
In 2013 they planted nine acres to Teroldego, Lagrein, Syrah and Goldmuskateller believing these grapes are more suited to their site than the usual Long Island suspects of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. In Southold, Regan explains, “Bordeaux varieties have reigned supreme,” but, “they lose their freshness by the time they’re in your glass.” This, he attributes to the time it takes to get phenolic ripeness on this part of Long Island. “Teroldego and Lagrein have more natural acidity so we can push them longer into the season. And they’re more versatile.”
A Winter Wonderland at Southold Farm and Cellar
While they’re waiting for the vineyard to mature, they’ve been relying primarily on fruit from the Farrm Vineyard in Calverton, which is the only certified organic vineyard on Long Island. Twenty miles west, it has a slightly warmer microclimate. In 2014, Southold made 900 cases of wine and Regan is hoping that they might use some fruit from the estate vines in 2015.
They are firmly against using chemicals and have laid the groundwork for biodiversity in the vineyard. Regan is also a staunch believer in using native yeast and minimal sulfur.
Currently, the wine is made at Raphael Winery in Peconic but plans are in the works to build their own facility next to the vineyard. Though vested in what is to come in the next few years (and their two young children), this waiting period is giving Regan freedom to experiment and he seems to be enjoying himself with cuvées such as “The Devil’s Advocate.” We tasted a few wines in the tasting room, a small structure that came with the property. It is closed to the public during the winter but as spring is in the air, it should be open again in the next few weeks.
Southold Farm and Cellar Brut Nature, La Belle-Fille, 2009 ($36)
What happened here? Basically, Peconic Bay made 1200 bottles of sparkling wine from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 2009 but kind of, sort of, forgot about it. When they closed in 2013 Regan and Carey went over to purchase some of their equipment and noticed “some dusty crates.” They grabbed a few bottles out of curiosity and were back soon thereafter for the rest. Bottled without a dosage, it is bone dry with searing acidity. Toasty and yeasty with toasted almond brioche and red apple fruit, I can understand why they did not want to see it go to waste.
Southold Farm and Cellar Damn the Torpedoes, 2013 ($28)
The Devil’s Advocate is an effervescent red wine that pays homage to Lambrusco. It is composed of Merlot, Petit Verdot and a little Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes and was aged for five months in 228 gallon oak casks. A little spicy and very juicy, with a charming array of berries, black cherries and plums, it is a job well done. Next year, Regan is making it entirely from Petite Verdot as he likes the acidity and nuance it gives to the wine.
Southold Farm and Cellar “The Devil’s Advocate,” 2013 ($26)
“The Devil’s Advocate” is from the Mudd Main vineyard, which is one of the oldest on Long Island. First planted in 1974, the Musque clone Chardonnay that went into this bottling is over 30 years old. It spent seven days on its skins, underwent a four-month ferment in barrel, was aged for six months in two-year-old 800-liter casks, minimally filtered and bottled with a touch of SO2. People who like crisp, mineral driven and zesty Chardonnay should find common cause with those who enjoy a richer style as it meets somewhere in the middle, perhaps erring more on the exuberant side but with good acidity.
Southold Farm and Cellar “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” 2012
This whole cluster, foot stomped Cabernet Franc can hold its own against its compatriots from France. Sixty percent was fermented on its stems and the rest is whole berry. It sat on its skins for eight days before fermentation began and was aged for seven months in 228 liter oak casks. With a big spicy nose and juicy red fruit, it has Cab Franc character with minimal herbaceousness. I’ve noticed that it gives a lot more after it’s been open for an hour so decanting is a good idea.