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.
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.
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.
Dario Princic Jakot (Friuilano) IGT Venezia Giulia, 2011 (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy) $49
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.
Dario Princic Pinot Grigio, IGT Venezia Giulia, 2011 (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy) $49
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.
Dario Princic Ribolla Gialla, IGT Venezia Giulia, 2010 (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy) $49
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.
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.
Let’s get to it:
1) Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Combettes,” 2001 ($99)
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.
Estimated Age: Early 2000’s
Estimated Price: $75 – 80
2) Domaine Ponsot Morey-St. Denis, 1er Cru Clos des Monts Luisants, 2001 ($60)
80% Aligoté, 20% Chardonnay
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.
Estimated Age: Eight – 14 years
Estimated Price: $75
5) Domaine Leroy Meursault, 1er Cru “Poruzots,” 1999 ($130)
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.”
Estimated Age: Young, 2004
Estimated Price: $130
7) Bertagna Vougeot Blanc, 1er Cru “Les Cras,” 2003 ($45)
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.
Estimated Age: Turn of the century
Estimated Price: $75 – 130
8) Colin-Deleger Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Chenevottes,” 2002 ($75)
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.
Estimated Age: Late 90’s
Estimated Price: $60 – $70
9) Jean Noel Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Caillerets,” 2003 ($75)
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
2nd Place: Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Combettes,” 2001
3rd Place: Bertagna Vougeot Blanc, 1er Cru “Les Cras,” 2003
Honorable mention also goes to Gagnard’s “Les Caillerets,” which came in a close 4th.
My top three:
1st: Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru “Les Combettes,” 2001
2nd: François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru “Genevrières,” 2002
3rd: Chandon de Briailles Grand Cru Corton Blanc, 2004
The holy trinity of “The Old and the Restless: Burgundy” concludes in early May with Côtes de Nuits reds. Next up on The Vinguard – Friulian and Slovenian orange wines.
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.”
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.
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.
Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse
2000 Oregon Road, Mattituck, NY
Tasting Room Hours:
Sunday – Thursday: 10:30 am – 5 pm
Friday & Saturday: 10:30 am – 8 pm
Southold Farm & Cellar
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.”
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.
Southold Farm and Cellar
860 Old North Road, Southold, NY
Just eight days left until spring. Over and out.
Monday, March 16th, 2015, 6:30 – 8 pm
Ruby Wine, 1419 18th Street (Connecticut)
Shelley Lindgren lights up any room she enters, especially when she is about to open a bottle of wine. When she started A16 in 2004, it was modeled after the trattorias of Naples and the wine list complemented its food with a Campania focused, southern Italian selection that was unlike any other in the Bay Area. Since then, she has gone on to open two other restaurants, write two books, was nominated for a James Beard award and, not least, has stayed her incredibly charming, humble self. There is no one I can think of who I’d rather drink Southern Italy’s treasures with, and discuss the how these regions have changed over the last ten years.
Please join us! $22.50 in advance for conversation and tasting. $25 at the door. Click here to sign-up.
When I started diving into Burgundy 23 years ago, the one thing I kept hearing over and over was that so much was dependent on the producer. This is true of any region but, as I’ve come to see for myself, Burgundy more so than anywhere else. Two vignerons can make wine from rows six feet from one another but have very different results. Of course terroir is a huge factor. So is vintage and Mother Nature can have huge mood swings during the month of September in this corner of the world. Yet, great producers always make good wine and this could not be truer of another area.
When I decided that it was time to take the Old and the Restless to the Côte de Beaune, my biggest concern was being able to find wines from the producers that never let me down. I was spoiled early on with exposure to legendary winemakers such as Gérard Potel of Domaine de la Pousse D’Or, whose Volnay 1er Cru “60 Ouvrées,” made me wonder if indeed there was a god. Sadly, Potel passed away in 1997, and the wines have not been the same. He possessed a very rare gift.
No matter how divine the producer, sacred the terroir or perfect the vintage, older wines can be killed if they are not stored properly so I’m always very careful to buy wines from reputable sources. However, it’s pretty hard to avoid bottle variation so keep that in mind when reading the notes below. This said, it was pretty close to a monumental tasting. I’ve had opportunities to try older Burgundy throughout my career but many of the participants in this tasting, who with one exception are not in the wine industry, have not. Even those who had were floored. This may sound corny but watching people have that “ah-hah” moment with Burgundy makes my job as a wine educator most gratifying. All were blind tasted and while I knew the selection, did not know the order.
1) Domaine Philippe Bouchard Monthélie “Creux des Caves,” 1985 ($65)
I could not find any information on this producer, sorry to say. Monthélie is in between Volnay and Meursault and given that the former makes incredibly beautiful reds and the latter terrifically complex whites, it is easy to understand why this appellation is over shadowed.
Nineteen eighty-five was one of the rare years when just about everything went right, or to look at it in another way, nothing went wrong. Even in good vintages, 30 years can be a stretch for grand cru Burgundy, let alone a wine from a modest terroir. Initially I got a lot of mineral, cola and rhubarb in the nose and silky though dissipating fruit on the palate. This said, there was a decent finish, especially considering its elderly status. While the wine is on the downside it is far from dead. This was the general impression of the group as well. Its precision and balance was duly noted. Kudos to Philippe Bouchard.
Estimated Age: 15 – 20 years
Estimate Price: $75 – $300
2) Domaine Chandon de Briailles Corton Grand Cru “Clos du Roi,” 1998 ($95)
Chandon de Briailles has been in the same family since its founding in 1834. In 2005 they stopped using chemicals and have been Demeter and Ecocertified since 2011. Situated in Savigny-les-Beaune, Chandon de Briailles has holdings in Corton, Aloxe Corton, Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny-lès-Beaune. Less than an acre, Clos du Roi is perched 1000 feet above sea level. The vines were planted in 1961 and 1985 on steep limestone-clay marl with some sand.
The first wine I ever tried a wine from Chandon de Briailles was in 1994. It was the ’88 Corton Bressandes and that was all it took. During this time, Burgundy was if not as caught up as other regions, certainly paying attention to the traditional vs. modern, cleaner and fruit forward vs. funky and terroir driven debates and a number of producers shifted their winemaking to appeal to a perceived international palate. Chandon de Briailles always struck me as erring on the old fashion side but still made clean wines.
It rained on and off in September so there was a lot of variation this year but many of the wines are superb and I would put this bottling at the top of the class. Spicy with wild strawberries, cola, tea, forest floor and a moderate dose of “bretty” funk, it is fully expressive and does not seem to be heading south any time too soon. Everyone was pretty much on the same page, noting its funk yet appreciating the complexity it added to the wine.
Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years
Estimated Price: $100 – $150
3) Domaine Albert Morot Beaune 1er Cru “Bressandes,” 2004 ($50)
When Albert Morot started making wine in 1820, he was purely a negociant. Seventy years late his relatives began purchasing land in Beaune and today the domaine works exclusively with its own holdings. Still in the original family, Geoffroy Choppin de Janvry has been running the property since 2000. It was Ecocertified in 2014.
Morot’s Bressandes vines were about 20 years old in 2004. It has a southeast exposure on clay and limestone. Hailstorms in August made it a particularly challenging year in the Côtes de Beaune but it was not a disaster. Morot’s wines can be tough when they are young and this one is still a pup. It was a little green at first but not unpleasant, with cola, bacon fat and asphalt-like aromas coming to the fore. A couple of people smelled horseradish in the nose at first but ended up digging it in the end. All of the wines in this tasting changed as they sat in the glass but this might have more than any of the others.
Estimated Age: From the early 2000’s.
Estimated Price: $150 – $200 (based on its projected aging)
4) Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils Beaune 1er Cru “Clos de la Mousse,” 1998 ($75)
Bouchard was founded in 1731 and stayed in the family until 1995 when it was sold to Henriot. While it is largely a negociant at this point, they own some excellent plots including this monopole. A walled off eight acre vineyard grown on limestone and clay with a clay base,”Clos de la Mousse” is one of the Bouchard’s signature wines.
A number of people noticed the SO2 in this wine. The balance was a little out of whack with the alcohol sticking out like a burnt thumb. It had a good amount of spice with leafy, floral notes and the finish was long. I’m not sure if it is going to come around or not because the fruit seems like it is starting to go but I wouldn’t write it off either.
Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years
Estimated Price: $90 – $100
5) Domaine Parent Pommard 1er Cru “Les Argillières,” 2003 ($95)
Étienne Parent was among the earliest Burgundy producers to export wine to the United States, back in the days of Washington and Jefferson. Today, Anne Parent, a 12th generation winemaker, and her sister, Catherine, run the domaine. It has been Ecocertified since 2013.
Parent’s wines capture the power of Pommard, in a seductive wine. Two thousand and three was a very warm vintage and the fruit is not shy – one person called it the Jayne Mansfield of the tasting – yet it is matched with a healthy dose of tannin. I’d give this wine another five years, maybe more, before opening another bottle.
Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years
Estimated Price: $150 – $200
6) Domaine Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Les Marconnets,” 2007 ($88)
Simon Bize started out in 1880 with enough vines to make wine for his family but not much else. Four generations later, it has grown into a 54-acre domaine. The red wines are whole cluster fermented and see very little if any oak. “Les Marconnets” is a two-acre parcel planted in 1973 with deep sandy soil.
This was a last minute addition. Even though it does not meet the Old and the Restless ten-year criterion, I thought it would be fun to throw in and see if it could hold its own. No doubt, it rose to the occasion, offering a splendid bouquet of red fruits, spice, raw chopped meat and mushrooms with ample acidity and just enough tannin to keep it going a while longer. As a whole, the group thought it was older, putting it in the 15-year range yet also called it explosive and primary.
Estimated Age: 15 years
Estimated Price: $150 – $250 (one person was in the $75 camp)
7) Domaine Coste Caumartin Pommard 1er Cru “ Le Clos des Boucherottes,” 1995 ($75)
Coste Caumartin is one of the oldest estates in Pommard. Antoine Coste acquired it in 1793 and his descendent, Jerome Sordet took over in 1988, at some point along the way renaming it after himself (Domaine Jerome Sordet). Located close to Beaune, “Le Clos des Boucherottes” is a monopole on a hillside with clay and limestone soil hovering close to 1000 feet above sea level.
After four vintages that ranged from “gros catastrophe” to “not too bad,” 1995 gave the vignerons a lot of hope. One would think that after 20 years a Pommard would settle in but this one is still a little bit restless. It has a solid core of fruit, with cedar and licorice that gave it a Nebbiolo-like tinge. Some found it to be a little medicinal and harsh. Knowing how previous vintages of Coste Caumartin have aged, I’d take a leap of faith that in another three to five years the rough edges will smooth out and the wine will be in sweeter spot.
Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years
Estimated Price: $100
8) Domaine Tollot-Beaut Corton Grand Cru, 2002 ($90)
Tollot-Beaut made their first wines in 1921, at the urging of Frank Schoonmaker. Today, Nathalie Tollot, a fifth generation winemaker, is in charge. Located in Chorey-les-Beaune, the domaine has property in Beaune, Savigny-les-Beaune, Chorey-les-Beaune, Aloxe Corton and an acre and a half in Corton. These vines were planted in 1930 and 1985.
The producers were more than pleased with 2002 right after the harvest and it seems to have lived up to its expectations. Earthy but not funky with porcinis, minerals, chewy tannins and a solid mound of fruit, this wine has the longest to go of the nine tasted. One person said it seemed athletic with precise, rich flavors. Agreed yet in spite of its vigor and youthfulness, I’d be stoked to drink it now.
Estimated Age: 10 – 15 years
Estimated Price: $175 – $200
9) Domaine Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru “Clos du Chateau des Ducs,” 1995 ($175)
At this point, the Lafarge family might be the most entrenched in Volnay. They have been growers since the 1700’s and Michel bottled the first Lafarge wines in 1934. Today, Frédèric Lafarge, his grandson, is ruling the roost. “Clos du Chateau des Ducs” is situated on what was an 11th century chateau. It then came under the control of the Duchy of Burgundy until much of it was destroyed in a fire in 1749. Lafarge owns the original structures that were not damaged. A tiny 1.47 acre parcel 900 feet above sea level with 16 inches of brown clay and limestone on top of gravel and bedrock, this storied property births one of their flagship wines. The vines were planted between 1946 and 1985.
Compared to Coste-Causation’s Pommard from the same vintage, this wine seems more advanced. I got licorice, mushrooms, cinnamon and dried herbs and a few folks picked up cigar tobacco in the nose. While it has good grip, the fruit seems as if it is beginning to fade so I’d say the time to drink it is now.
Estimated Age: 20 – 25 years
Estimated Price: $150 – $200
Group Wine Rankings:
First Place: Tie between Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaune, 1er Cru Les Marconnets, 2007 and Tollot Beauty Grand Cru Corton, 2002.
Second Place: Parent Pommard 1er Cru Les Artilleries, 2003
Third Place: Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru Clos de Chateau des Ducs, 1995
Honorable mention to Domaine Chandon de Briailles Corton Grand Cru Clos du Roi, 1998 and Domaine Albert Morot Beaune 1er Cru Bressandes, 2004.
I would happily drink any of the nine wines tasted but the ones that stood out to me most were Chandon de Briailles’ Corton as it is not only in tip top shape now, but will thrive for years to come and Bouchard’s Monthélie because I cannot believe how well it has stood the test of time. However, I’d love to revisit Parent, Morot, Tollot-Beaut, Bize and even the 20 year old Coste Caumartin again and see how these wines evolve.
Until next time,