FALL CASE 2017
Fall is one of the most exciting seasons for wine. Just coming out of the hot summer, there’s the chance to cook some hardier fare and not have to turn the A/C down to open a bottle of red wine.
The fall case is dominated by red wine – with 9 reds (2 bottles are duplicated) and 3 whites.
Of the reds, there are two French, two Spanish, and two Italian. Of the whites, we have one French, one Italian, and one Austrian.
This is a case of natural wines – real farmers grew the grapes and made the wine. This write up is my attempt to make the wine personal – with the pictures so that you can see these real people, which I think increases the enjoyment when you open the bottle and taste the wine. I’ve stated many times what ‘natural wine’ is and in the write up I think you’ll see what I mean – hand picked grapes, organic farming, spontaneous fermentation, a non-interventionist approach in the cellar, no additives and nothing taken away. In a sense – no modern food technology.
Here’s the important point: none of these wines are made from grapes farmed with industrial chemical intensive agriculture, picked by machine, or manufactured in a metal building with all kind of chemical trickery.
I’ve always enjoyed selling wine around Thanksgiving, whereas I have definite opinions about what to serve at the Thanksgiving meal, there’s no consensus out there – and no traditions to uphold. So I’ll start with what wine I would least like to be served at Thanksgiving. A rich, buttery high-alcohol “new world” Chardonnay would be at the bottom of my list for wines I would like to be served at Thanksgiving. And tied for last would be a new-world high alcohol red that tastes like raspberry juice – I’m talking about you 15% Zinfandel and Argentinian Malbec – or overpriced new world Pinot Noir with 15% alc. and a hefty price tag.
There are two whites in the case that would be excellent. My white wine of choice, in this case, is the Gruner Veltliner, but the Macon Charnay would also work well. Even though I think of white wine as the better choice for the meal, there is no consensus to uphold that, so I suggest you go double-fisted at Thanksgiving with a red and a white. The red: The German Pinot Noir and the Orleggi Rioja. And if you’re going to open both, start with the Rioja, as the Pinot Noir is more substantial, more complex, a more expensive wine.
Lastly, if you have a bottle of European dry rose left over from the summer, or a bottle of bubbles, those are always a wise choice to begin with as an apertif before the meal.
Here’s to hoping your turkey is moist.
And a beauty to the pilgrims.
Luberri ‘Orlegi’ Rioja 2016 $13.49
Grape Composition: 95% Tempranillo, 5% Viura
The Wine: There are many different styles of Rioja, and this wine is a return to traditional light, fruit-forward Riojas. The farmer Florentino has made a name for himself as a passionate farmer and a hands-on winemaker. Whole cluster fermentation and use of indigenous yeasts produce a classic, young Tempranillo – a simple, coiffable wine for everyday drinking. The concentration of flavors in his wine is due to low yields, which takes a commitment to quality by Florentino – he produces less wine on the farm. But this concentration is essential in maximizing quality.
Food pairings: Roast chicken, any kind of lamb, pork, or beef stew with tomato. And, as I mentioned, this wine would be an excellent red to serve with a Thanksgiving meal. And, if you or one of your guests only drinks red wine, it would be OK to have as an apertif before the meal (although, if you have a rose left over from summer I’d recommend that to start).
Things to learn: In the 1850s France’s wine industry was experiencing problems with mildew rot in the vineyards, and in the 1970s they had a farming crisis when phylloxera attacked their vines. Rioja came to the rescue and supplied wine to be sold to the French. Negotiants, or wine merchants, set up shop in Rioja to buy wine to then send home and sell in France. Rioja profited greatly from France’s misfortune. The French vineyards were restored by the practice of grafting American rootstock onto the French vines. The American plants were resistant to the pesky louse and saved France’s wine growers. But many of the transplanted French stayed on in Spain and opened bodegas. The French approach to making wine became woven into the culture, and a permanent part of viticulture in Rioja.
‘In the proverbial book of wine, Rioja is Spain’s most storied region. There are early chapters involving kings and pilgrims, and later ones that chronicle the arrival of phylloxera-fleeing Bordelais. Here too are tales of the subsequent advent of world class red wine, and Rioja being anointed Spain’s very first denominacion de origen.” – Michael Schachner, The Wine Enthusiast
Rioja is a fascinating wine region. Spain’s oldest and most famous region is credited with producing the initial interest in Spain for those serious about wine. At the moment, Spain is hot – the wines are tasty and represent great value. Much of the attention is focused on the wines from regions like Priorat, Ribera del Duro, Rueda, and Galicia. Meanwhile I feel Rioja, long the pride of Spain, is being overlooked. In press coverage and retail focus Rioja deserves better. I decided to do my part by including this Luberri Rioja in the case.
For me, the magic of Rioja is the unique character of Tempranillo grapes grown there. In no other place does Tempranillo achieve wines that are so complex, elegant, and with such silky texture. Wines with sensual qualities capable of making you fall in love.
Joan d’Anguera ‘Altaroses’ Granatxa 2015 $17.49
Region: Montsant, Spain Grape: 100% Grenache
The Wine: This is a stunning example of what 100% Grenache can be when Grenache grapes are farmed biodybamically and are allowed to speak for themselves in the cellar – the winemaker not employing any new world mumbo-jumbo modern chemistry.
The Story: In the world of wine, Grenache is the most widely planted grape – a good bit of it coming from one country…Spain. It doesn’t get much respect, being widely overlooked as a grape with which you can have a great experience. If you were going to pick the place where Grenache is most widely recognized, it would be France’s Rhone river valley. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the only classic wine that includes Grenache in the blend. Another Grenache that’s made a bit of noise in the last 30 years would be Priorat, from Spain’s Catalonia. Priorat is a dense, big, very high alcohol red that appeals to wine drinkers who like that kind of wine. The Spanish word the grape is Garnacha. Garnacha has been grown in the Catalan region for a very long time, but a big bracing red from the village of Priorat gained its reputation in the 1990s.
This Grenache/Garnacha is neither of the above. The Anguera brothers have decided to label the wine as a “Granatxa,” the old Catalan name for Grenache, as an emblem of their focus on adhering to the lighter, traditional style of wines that used to be made in their home town of Darmós. The Altaroses is Joan d’Anguera’s first certified biodynamic and organic wine.
Oz Clarke – the British wine sage – in his fantastic book ‘Oz Clarke’s Encyclopoedia of Grapes,’ in his attempt for making a case for Grenache being one of his favorites says “I’m sorry people dismiss Grenache, because good Grenache is one of the great wine experiences. Grenache is, for me, the wild, wild woman of wine, the sex on wheels and devil take the hindmost, the don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Why is it in the case?: There are some wines that when you experience them in your glass, there’s something inside of you that goes ‘Wow!’. For me, this was one of those wines. Note: don’t take this wine to a potluck, or take it to a neighbor that you’re indifferent about down the street. This is a wine to adorn the table with good friends and family assembled.
A quick note on biodynamic agriculture: I’m not sure why, but many of my favorite wines in the last 10 years have been made from biodynamically produced grapes. Biodynamics is a system of agriculture that sprung from Rudolf Steiner’s lectures about agriculture and farming, in the same way Montesorri schools resulted from a similar group of lectures about education. Biodynamic agriculture is beyond organic. It’s very unusual for a wine to be certified biodynamic, and the certifying group that has certified this wine is first rate. Demeter International certification is difficult to come by and must be renewed annually. Demeter’s “biodynamic” certification requires biodiversity and ecosystem preservation, soil husbandry, livestock integration, prohibition of genetically engineered organisms and viewing the farm as a living “holistic organism”.
The Anguera brothers
Thurnhof St Magdalener $18
Grapes: 90% Vernatsch, 10% Lagrien
The Wine: It’s light, elegant, and very complex, which makes it a great food wine, because it’s happy not to be the star of the show, but to complement the food. This is a white-wine lover’s red wine.
The Story: The wine comes from tiny Thurnhof family estate, where they farm about 10 acres organically. Andreas Berger uses no herbicides or insecticides, enriches his soil yearly, and isn’t ‘overly enamored with technology in the cellar’, as importer Jay Murrie says. Wine growing on the mountainous estate traces back to the 12th century, while Andreas’ ancestors aquired it in the 19th. Damage from WWII destroyed the buildings at Thurnhof – the Berger family didn’t rebuild until the 1980s. During the intervening years they continued to grow fruit and sell it to the co-op in Alto Adige. The grape Vernatsch (also called Trollinger in Germany, and Schiava in other Italian regions) is thought to originate in this hilly region of Italy, and has certainly been grown in the Alto Adige region since at least the 13th century. Linguists believe that the ‘Vernatsch’ name shares a linguistic root with the English word ‘vernacular’ – or ‘local’. 10 percent of the wine is made up from the grape Lagrien, which is another red wine grape native to Northern Italy.
Why I picked it: I thought it was a phenomenal bargain for the price. I first found this wine because Sarah Vickery at the Lantern in Chapel Hill seemed excited about a red wine that was different from most that she had tasted. She enthusiastically poured me a taste. I ended up having a glass, and it was my go-to red wine this summer. I even built a supper club around the wine.
Visintini Franconia $18
The Wine: This is a medium to full bodied red that when I tasted it said, ‘Serve this in the fall, as the weather turns cooler…’ It has a lovely juiciness which would be the opposite of austere.
The Story: Vineyards are 3 miles from the Slovenian border, where vines have been cultivated since the middle ages. This is an area where you have two diverse food cultures – somewhat Germanic and somewhat Italian.
The siblings Cinzia, Palmira, and Oliviero continue the work of their grandfather (Domenico) who bought the estate in the late 1800s. They minimize their interference in the cellar, and focus the bulk of their work on the soils and vines in the vineyard. They are certified organic, and moving towards biodynamic. They grow mainly indigenous grapes – the grapes, cellar, and land all have a long history in the area.
Pinot Noir : Koehler-Ruprecht Pinot Noir Kallstadter Spatlese trocken $21.99
Grape: 100% Pinot Noir
Region: Pfalz, Germany
The Wine: This wine is Pinot Noir to my liking. There’s good concentration of flavors, but it’s not one of those high alcohol fruit monsters made in the new world – I’m talking about you California/Australia/Chile. This wine has concentration of flavors but it is graceful enough to be a good food wine.
Things to learn: A strange benefit of global warming is that it has, unfortunately, made it possible to ripen Pinot Noir grapes in this region of Germany. Germans winemakers are extremely skilled and almost always deliver a superb product in the bottle, so we’re lucky in this regard. Bernd Phillipi has solidified the winery over the last 30 years with a traditional winemaking attitude – no irrigation, fertilizers, or herbicides are ever used. In the cellar, long, spontaneous fermentaions occur in large, old German oak barrels with extended lees contact. Nothing is added or subtracted from the wine.
Food: Great with a pork chop, Roasted chicken, any type of lighter meat meals. This is another excellent Thanksgiving red (with the meal).
Why I picked it: It has that wonderful earthiness with a little bit of barnyard present in so many great red wines. I just couldn’t resist putting this wine in the case because of the price value, the low alcohol, and the fact that most people have never had a Pinot Noir from Germany – and especially one that’s this good.
What is spatlese? Spatlese literally means ‘Late Harvest’. The grapes are picked at least seven days after regular harvest. Spatlese can be either sweet or dry – more than anything it is a level of ripeness that suits rich dry wines like this one.
Dominik Sona and Franzi Schmitt Bernd Phillipi
Salomon Undhof Gruner Veltliner $36
Grape: 100% Gruner Veltliner
Region: Kremstal, Wachau, Austria
The Wine: This is a rich, full white wine that has many of the characteristics of a good red wine.
The Story: The winery is in the eastern part of Wachau, in the appellation Kramstal DAC. They’ve been producing wine on this estate for 225 years. The first bottlings by Fritz Salomon were exported to the USA in the 1930s, and his son Dr. Berthold now represents the seventh generation of Salomons producing at the estate.
Why I picked it: Gruner Veltliner has become a go-to choice for people looking for bright, crisp white wine. Gruner generally produces clear wines with fine minerality – a perfect mix of character, balance, and harmony. Because there really is no industrially produced wine in Austria, it’s often what I ask for when I’m out to eat and want a glass of wine – do they have any Austrian wines by the glass? Many of you may remember getting liters of Gruner Veltliner in past seasonal cases. But this estate Gruner is a step up in quality. The richness and complexity of this wine is really extraordinary. It’s a more expensive wine – but I thought one worthy of our attention.
Lis Neris Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $24.49
The Wine: Serve this wine at your Christmas dinner if you’re cooking a standing rib roast, and this wine will make you proud. And it’ll make the people at the table smile.
The story: Lis Neris, in the region of Friuli, is a favorite of mine. The estate is in the town of San Lorenzo, very close to the Slovenian border. Lis Neris is in its fourth generation, farming nearly 100 acres of vines. Lis Neris has always had a strong relationship to the vineyard and the surrounding country side – as they say: “Knowledge of, and respect for, the environment has always allowed us to infuse more and more of the character of the terroir into our wines”
What to learn: This Cabernet Sauvignon has much of the appeal of the much more expensive Cabernets that are aged in oak barrels from France, California, etc. But whereas most of the wines – especially the ones from the US – show no restraint in using the oak (and in fact the characteristics of oak aging overwhelm many of the wines from California or Washington), this wine is an example of judicious oak aging. I want people to taste a Cabernet that represents what many American Cabernets could be.
Food: Braised red meats, roasted red meats, or any meal where you would serve a Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a really special bottle of wine – don’t take it to a potluck – but rather serve it at a special meal where you care about the people around the table.
Why I picked it: Whereas I usually favor very light and delicate red wines with low alcohol, there is a place for fuller, bigger red wines. I wanted to show what a really good Cabernet could be. This would be such a wine. The wine is brighter and much more delicate than the Napa Valley Cabernets. There are even stylish tannins in this Cabernet that give it a lot of its structure… What is structure? Here’s what Karen Mcneal says “Structure – which, in wine, is difficult to describe – is the sense that the wine has an underlying ‘architecture’. The French sometimes refer to structure as the skeleton or backbone of the wine. With a well defined structure, a wine takes on a certain formidableness and beauty.”
Domaine de Bablut ‘Petra Alba’ 2014 $17.99
Grape: Cabernet Franc
The Wine: This is a serious, structured, beautifully balanced wine that I find very interesting to drink.
Things to learn: A few years ago, I said to myself: ‘I’d like to let my seasonal case customers know more about Cabernet Franc.’ Everyone knows the more famous Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a bigger wine with more tannins. It is many people’s opinion that Cabernet Franc was the original Cabernet Sauvignon, which I find a lighter, more complex, and better food wine than Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines fly far below the radar and often deliver a ‘Wow’ wine experience for a price I find extremely attractive. In my opinion Cabernet Franc produces a much prettier and more interesting wine than most Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s unusual in that it’s grown on soft limestone soils, and you can taste the minerality in the wine. The minerality shines through.
Food Pairings: Not an apertif wine. I wouldn’t drink this wine as an apertif, but it’s ideal with charcuterie. Pair this wine with lamb, beef, or even try it with full flavored salmon dishes.
The Story: Christophe Daviau is the current proprietor of Domaine de Bablut, a domaine that has been in operation since the 15th century. The name comes from an old French word meaning windmill, and the original windmill is still on the property – and it’s where the tasting room is. Christophe is a huge proponent of organic viticulture and farms that way on his estate.
Macon Charny Chardonnay 2015 $19.99
Region: Grape: Chardonnay
The wine: This Chardonnay is ripe and rich, and I’d say it’s a red wine lover’s white wine.
Why I picked it / The Story: This has been a favorite white wine of mine over the years. It’s rich and full, and really what a Chardonnay can be. It hasn’t been fouled up with modern interventionist practices, so its fresh, clean, and crisp. The wine is happy being an apertif, but I’d love to have it with a pork chop from the grill, or any fare where you want a fuller, bigger white wine. Loius Dressner, the importer, who has been a pioneer and rock star in importing small estate natural wines, began his portfolio with this estate. The farming is organic, the winemaking is non-interventionist.
Macon is a district of Burgundy, and they follow a lot of the same practices and use a lot of the same grapes as the more famous region of Burgundy, the Côte d’Or, so it’s a white Burgundy at a fraction of the price.
Torre dei Beati Pecorino d’Abruzzo $21.99
Grape: 100% Percorino
Region: Abruzzo, Italy
The Story: It seems every few years there is a new hip native Italian grape, and we have one here in Pecorino – the small, vibrant yellow-green grapes that make up 100 percent of this wine. The Percorino grape has a complicated and long history. It has been grown for ages in Italy’s eastern coastal regions, specifically Marche and Abruzzo. However, it was finicky to grow and – more importantly for the farmers – had a low yield. It was slowly ripped out and replaced by more robust producing grapes – especially Trebbianno. By the mid-20th Century, Pecorino was thought extinct. In the 1980s, a local producer researching native varieties investigated a rumor of some forgotten vines in an overgrown vineyard. Cuttings were taken and propagated, and eventually grew enough grapes to make some very good wine in the early 1990s. Since then, the variety’s plantings have exploded, based on great reactions from wine buyers. Fausto Albanesi is the winemaker. His Pecorino vines grow at high elevation in mountainous inland Abruzzo, near a little village called Loreto Aprutino. Remote – 45 minutes by car from the Adriatic coast.
The Grape: Percorino means little sheep, and is more often associated with the sheep’s milk cheese of the same name. Apparently it was a favorite grape of forage for the flocks of sheep. Coincidentally, this wine pairs extremely well with the cheese of its same name.
Why I chose this wine: I first tasted this wine at Jay Murrie’s Piedmont Wine Imports wine portfolio tasting, where many of the farmers were actually in attendance. I was immediately smitten, liking the texture and flavors of this wine. I then learned about its growing popularity, and wanted to include it in the case. I always like my wine customers to know things ahead of the market – and Percorino is just coming into style. Subsequently, I served this delicious white at two dinner gatherings. I’m always keen to watch which of the various wines that I have open disappear first, and at both parties the Pecorino won. I guess you could say that’s my market research. Finally, last year, Gambero Rosso (an organization I respect very much) picked this wine as one the best 50 wines in Italy.
Fausto y Adriana