Category Archives: Anya Balistreri

Ouled Thaleb: Morocco’s Finest

The Wine House has been stocking the wines of Ouled Thaleb for nearly two years! Our reputation for carrying a vast selection of French wine may cause some to overlook the global wine selection at the The Wine House but we have wines from Central Europe, the Southern Hemisphere and beyond. The beyond part takes us to Ouled Thaleb, one of Morocco’s leading wineries established in 1923. The winery is located twenty miles northeast of Casablanca in the Zenata appellation. The Zenata AOG is prized for its coastal climate, sandy shale and gravelly sand soils, and high elevation. The history of wine production in Morocco is said to go back 4,000 years and has appeared and disappeared over the centuries. In the late 1880’s French winegrowers came to Morocco seeking new areas to plant while back home phylloxera was creating havoc and devastation. In 1923 Morocco became a protectorate of France and the cultivation of vines grew to over 130,000 acres. When France left Morocco in 1956 many of the vineyards turned fallow. However in the 1990’s French winemakers returned to Morocco at the urging of its king to lease vineyards and replant. I hope this very brief history lesson is not a total bore, but I find it helps to better understand why there is such a prevalence of traditional French varietals planted in Morocco.

 

Two years ago, a young Frenchman came into our store and asked whether we’d be interested in tasting wine from Morocco. I jumped at the chance to have a new wine experience. I remember tasting Moroccan wine years and years ago at a restaurant in the Richmond district called Mamounia’s – nothing impressive, but fine and drinkable. I’m sure in those days not much made it out of Morocco and even today, it’s extremely limited. Fortunately for us, this young Frenchman has a strong passion for wine and believes deeply in the potential for great wines from this area of the world. He poured me the entire portfolio from Ouled Thaleb. I was immediately captivated, not only because it was exotic and new, but because the wine tasted so good. The Moroccan White Blend is, you guessed it, a blend of the native varietal Faranah and Clairette. It is a bright, stainless steel fermented, citrus-laden, zippy white. Lots of clean flavors that encourage casual sipping or perhaps a seafood match-up. The Moroccan Red Blend (also a blend!) is comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. A juicy, medium-bodied red that sees a short stay in oak barrel, flavors of red plum, ripe cherry dominate with hints of spice. The two Moroccan Blends are perfect everyday wines offering high value to price ratio. The Ouled Thaleb Syrah steps it up a notch, offering a dark smokey fruit profile, a dead ringer for a Northern Rhone Crozes-Hermitage.  Speaking of Crozes-Hermitage, famed vigneron Alain Graillot visited Ouled Thaleb some time back and was so impressed with their Syrah, he collaborated with them, creating his own “barrel-selected” bottling. I like to turn people on to Ouled Thaleb Syrah who express both interest in Syrah and enjoy the more finesse-ful side of the varietal.

 

So where did summer vacation go? School started up this week and it caught me totally unprepared. Granted my focus has been elsewhere, but I just wish I had a few more weeks to laze around in that unscheduled nirvana of summer vacation. The calendar is back up and filling in quickly with after school activities and all the other stuff surrounding elementary school. My consolation is that we’re entering prime tomato season! My own tomato plants had a surge of ripening a few weeks back and have tapered off due to the cooler nights we’ve had in the Bay Area of late. Thankfully the good folks at the Farmer’s Market travel far with their heat-soaked sweet tomatoes! I might take a cue from my own weekend write-up and put together a Moroccan-spiced eggplant tangine to serve with one or all three of the Ouled Thaleb wines offered here at The Wine House! Be adventurous with your tastebuds. Anya Balistreri

 

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Clairette, Syrah

Picollo’s Gavi di Gavi “Rovereto”

The 2012 Gavi di Gavi “Rovereto” from Ernesto Picollo captures the essence of seaside freshness as it combines lime-scented, citrusy fruit with sparkling acidity. There is no argument that Ernesto Picollo’s Gavi DOCG is a true workhorse and bargain, but when you want a little more there there, the “Rovereto” is the way to go. Picollo’s winery and most of their vineyards are in the hamlet of Rovereto within Gavi in southeastern Piedmont. Often referred to as the crown jewel of Piedmontese whites, Gavi, in actuality, has more in common with its southern neighbor’s wines, Liguria. In fact, Rovereto’s climate is influenced by its proximity to the Ligurian sea. The maritime breezes make their way up the hills to Rovereto, preserving there a more Mediterranean climate. Most of Gavi has a mix of both sand and clay soils, however in Rovereto soils tend to be more clay, allowing for reserves of water for deep roots during dry summer months. Also, Rovereto gets full southern exposure, which helps with ripening.
Gavi’s grape, Cortese, can trace its history way, way back. There is written documentation from 1659 naming it as one of the vines planted on an estate in Piedmont. It was prized for its resistance to grape disease and for producing quality grapes with high yields. Ideally Cortese needs a dry climate, meager soils and good sun exposure, all things that Rovereto provides.

 

So it follows that the lush texture of Picollo’s “Rovereto” with its golden hue and zippy minerality is especially complimentary to seafood and in particular to shellfish. All stainless steel tank-fermented, there is plenty of concentration propelled by a suave palate feel, making Picollo’s “Rovereto” dangerously easy to finish off well before any food shows up at the table. But remember, this is Italian wine and Italians insist on eating food while drinking wine, so do as they say and make sure to have a few nibbles on hand when you pull the cork. Enough with the lecture!

 

This really happened. At a staff tasting we tried a white wine that struck us as interesting but maybe didn’t quite wow us, so we decided to give it another chance and placed it in the fridge overnight to see if it would evolve in the bottle. At the end of the following day, after the shop was closed up and before heading out, Chris presented Pete and me with a glass of white wine. I took a whiff and was positively baffled at how dramatically the sample white we tried the day before had changed.  Gone were the earthy, adhesive aromas and in its place was pulpy citrus, charged acidity and a fragrant herbal nose. It was fabulous! Could a wine really change that much overnight? Well the glass in my hand certainly proved it could, that is until Pete caught sight of my confusion and also noticed the vast difference between the wine we tasted the day before and the one we were tasting now. Putting two and two together, Pete quickly announced that what we were drinking was not the funky sample but most likely the 2012 Gavi di Gavi “Rovereto” from Ernesto Picollo. This made perfect sense to me however the only way Chris could have gotten a hold of a perfectly chilled bottle of “Rovereto” was to have opened a bottle that I had placed hours before in the fridge to take home for my Friday Night Fish Fry! Flip flopping from bouts of laughter to shooting “you son of a gun” glances over at Chris for ruining my planned dinner wine, I had to admit it was a comical way to end the work week and that great wine will always and immediately make itself known.

 

The last couple of weeks have been tough. Without going into details, let me just say that my family has faced some rough challenges – but we’re a tight bunch and I am thankful for that. In between handling family matters, I have taken some time out to bask in summertime’s fun.  An annual trip to the Sonoma County Fair with my daughter and husband was a highlight. Who can resist newborn piglets, greasy fair food, or a free cone of vanilla ice cream from the Clover stand? Oh yeah, and I helped rescue a drowning woman out of the Russian River. All of this makes me more mindful of how blessed I am for the family I have and how it’s best to do now and not later. There is a bag of calamari in my freezer that went in when my husband passed on going to a long ago planned, all-guys retreat to stay home with me while things were still up in the air. The calamari is going to be fried up soon and with it a bottle of 2012 Gavi “Rovereto” will be served. I’ll just have to make sure to hide the bottle away from Chris! – Anya Balistreri

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Pierazzuoli’s 2011 Barco Reale di Carmignano

Le Farnete’s 2011 Barco Reale di Carmignano combines Sangiovese’s lush red cherry fruit and fresh acidity with Cabernet Sauvignon’s structure and backbone. Not some newfangled blend, Carmignano, a Tuscan region just northwest of Florence, has championed this combination of grapes since the 18th Century! A Super Tuscan before there were Super Tuscans. The Barco Reale di Carmignano will see less time in barrel and comes to market sooner than its big brother, Carmignano. I find the inclusion of Cabernet Sauvignon extremely complimentary to Sangiovese and in no way detracting from Sangiovese’s intrinsic juiciness and vibrancy. July’s heat has found me drinking plenty of Rose, that’s for sure, but when I am in need of a red wine that has softer tannins yet still has body, the 2011 Barco Reale di Carmignano from Le Farnete fits the bill beautifully.

 

Le Farnete is one of two Tuscan estates owned by the Pierazzuoli family. Enrico is the owner and is assisted by his wife, brother and two sisters. Along with the wines, the Pierazzuoli’s produce olive oil and vegetable preserves and also run an agriturism business. It’s a true family affair for the Pierazzuoli’s. This close connection to each other and to the land is what fuels their passion for making the best wine possible. When Enrico took over from his father in 1990, he began an extensive replanting of the vineyards, choosing low-yielding clones which were densely planted. Improvements also occurred on the production side including building a state-of-the-art winery. All this investment has paid off as their wines continue to impress and provide a high quality to price ratio. I’m not sure exactly how The Wine House was introduced to Enrico Pierazzuoli but I am sure it was his confidence and vision that attracted us to his wines. Believing in Enrico and his vision for the future, The Wine House began importing his wines. That was nearly two decades ago!

 

Sangiovese in summertime. Sounds good and tastes good! Checking out our blog, I noticed that the last two times I wrote about wine from Pierazzuoli it was in summer. I can tell you honestly that stuffed zucchini and Barco Reale di Carmignano are dynamite together! My garden is exploding with zukes and I have a couple of recipes using them that need a red but one where the tannins are in check, has good acidity and rich fruit. Ba-da-bing…2011 Barco Reale di Carmignano from Le Farnete!
 

Last weekend I rushed from work for a quick trip up to the River to meet with childhood friends for a “Russian River Rats” reunion. Many of them I hadn’t seen for a very long time – too long! Lots of laughter and reminiscing ensued and continued well into the night. Funny how we all fell into our roles behaving like we did all those years ago. I brought along a bottle of the Barco Reale di Carmignano. It was a big hit, especially with the lamb shashlik that my brother grilled over a Weber while three of us held flashlights allowing him to see in the darkened backyard. Summer fun! – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Carmignano, Tuscany

Lacuna 2011: A Red Blend for Summer

It is often not enough for wine to be good, I like a wine to have a good story behind it too. Believe me when I say there is a lot of wine out there! I do my best to taste through as much of it as I physically can so that I can make an informed decision as to what to buy for the store, but I have my limits. And besides, when I look over my tasting notes and think back on the wines that made the biggest impression on me, it usually comes down to the people behind the wine. It also follows that the passionate souls that I gravitate towards are rooted in a sense of place. Sometimes that place is a physical one – a vineyard, an estate, a region – and sometimes, the place is more of a sensibility. I know, that last part is rather vague, but work with me here. Lacuna is not a winery nor a vineyard, but what is in the bottle of their proprietary red speaks volumes about character and quality. They source sought-after, highly regarded vineyards, choosing only the best each vintage, and because of this all you will read on the label is “Red Wine, California”. That is only the beginning of the story.

 

The first vintage to hit the shelves was the 2007 Lacuna. The Wine House was the first to promote the 2007 Lacuna with unabashed enthusiasm. That enthusiasm continues with the 2011 Lacuna. Lacuna began as a partnership between three veteran wine guys who worked primarily on the distribution side of the wine business. They wanted to take their wine point of view to market by making their own wine. A stroke of genius lead them to ask rising-star winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. fame to make their first vintage and then subsequently invited him to join the team. Twain-Peterson has made every vintage of Lacuna. Because of their collective connections within the wine business, the Lacuna team is able to source impeccable fruit but in return for getting access to these famed vineyards at favorable prices, they are asked not to reveal the vineyard names.
 

For the 2011 Lacuna, 85% of the blend is Syrah. Various vineyards sites for Syrah were used, including one planted primarily to the Alban clone. The fruit from this vineyard is responsible for lending the distinct bacon and smoke component to the wine. Some of the other Syrah components were co-fermented with Viognier, just like they do in Cote Rotie, to offer an aromatic counterpoint to the broodier Alban-clone site. In addition to Syrah, there are small smatterings of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan, all sourced from a vineyard originally planted before the turn of the century. Pretty cool stuff! In the end, the various pieces to the puzzle fit together seamlessly to produce a wine of great depth, vigor and a dark edge. Meaty, sanguine and black berry notes dominate. This is not a jump in your lap, lick your face kinda Syrah, but one with deeply satisfying, savory fruit fortified by an ample, forceful structure.

 

A vacation spent at my family’s dacha among the Redwoods along the glorious Russian River last week gave me opportunity to drink some tasty wine. Coincidently, one of the Lacuna guys is also a fan of this area, having grown up there and is now caretaker of the family home. We like to compare notes about where to go and what to do. Inevitably though, I tell him that other than a day spent on the beach, my motivation to go anywhere lately is low! Watching for ospreys and river otters or my daughter’s hilarious attempts at landing on a floaty in the water is entertainment enough. As is relishing a glass of something yummy with dinner in the evening. Take the 2011 Lacuna and a grilled piece of aged beef and you have yourself a feast. The Lacuna’s structure begs for something substantial to pair with it. Other than animal protein, I would suggest serving a hearty grain like a barley risotto with mushrooms. That smokey, bacon quality of the 2011 Lacuna makes you want to sink your teeth into something; it is a sophisticated choice for serving with bold flavors off the grill. Get out and play! – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, California, Syrah

Ca’ Lojera: Lugana’s Best

The Lugana DOC from Ca’ Lojera completes a trifecta of impressive TWH-direct whites from Italy that includes Montenidoli’s Vernaccia Tradizionale and Picollo’s Gavi. All three wines offer exceptional quality for the money and show authentic expression of their respective grape variety and place. They also happen to be family-run wineries. To my mind, those are key ingredients for enjoying a wine all the more! Ca’ Lojera’s 2012 Lugana is the fourth vintage to land in our warehouse. It has not lost any of its original luster to my palate.  Each vintage brings with it subtle variation, but always amazing depth, lushness, and a hallmark note of salinity. It is never boring and never palate fatiguing. A second glass, a second bottle, a second case is always in (and on) order!

 

Franco and Ambra Tiraboschi began growing grapes in the ’80s. Winemaker Franco comes from a family of farmers who did not grow grapes. Franco was met with skepticism when he embarked on grape growing but he persevered only to be thrown into wine production in the early ’90s when some of his contracts were not honored and he was left with grapes that had no where to go. It was a time when wine from Lugana was relatively unknown and had not yet regained the reputation and notoriety it has today. Once again the Tiraboschi’s persevered and now are known to make one of the finest Lugana in the region. Fortunately, David immediately recognized the exceptional quality of Ca’ Lojera during a 3-day wine seminar and tasting in New York City where he sampled through hundreds of wines and met hundreds of producers some years back.

The grape variety that goes into Lugana is known as Turbiana. It has been genetically linked to Verdicchio though at one time it was referred to as Trebbiano di Lugana. Ca’ Lojera’s Turbiana grows on mineral-rich, deep clay soils very near Lake Garda’s shore giving their wine that touch of salinity and savoriness. Flavors of melon, juicy tangerine, with intermittent notes of spearmint and herb, carrying forth in a fleshy texture that swirls around on your palate. All stainless steel tank fermented, the plushness of the wine is derived entirely from the grape and soil alone. Being situated on Lake Garda, the winery’s pairing suggestions circle around freshwater fish as well as ocean bound ones. I would include crustaceans like shrimp, crab or even lobster. There is enough stuffing to the wine to even pair it up with pork and chicken. It really has a lot of versatility. My family normally cooks nightly, but we’ve been barraged by work and end-of-school goings on, so have more than once relied on take-out in the past couple weeks. At San Anselmo’s Comforts, their ever popular, lightly-dressed Chinese chicken salad makes for a particularly tasty partner with Ca’ Lojera’s 2012 Lugana. 

 

I wait until the absolute last minute to write my weekend newsletter, usually writing it on a Saturday during business hours. This time I am bucking tradition (writing it on Wednesday) because I will be celebrating the epic union of Konstantin and Alla Zaharoff at their 60th Wedding Anniversary – yep, my parents! Oh jeez, I am already tearing up just writing down the words - I better get it out of my system! In the next few days I will be hustling, getting the party organized. Luckily, this is a family affair, so I won’t be going it alone. This much is true: no one will leave the party hungry or thirsty. As for the speech I am expected to give along with my brothers and sister? I’m going to try to keep it short or risk turning into a crying, messy puddle of mush. Growing up I was convinced that if my parents ever divorced it would be over whether or not the chicken was properly cooked. Raw, overdone, I guess it never mattered since if the only thing that they ever really argued over was the chicken’s doneness then their marriage was surely destined to remain intact. Our family is so blessed to be able to celebrate this long, happy marriage all together.
Pazdravlyaem s’ brilliantovoi svadboi!
 I love you Mama and Papa!
– Anya Balistreri 

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2011 Stephane Magnien Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru “Aux Petites Noix”

Domaine Stephane Magnien was formally introduced to TWH customers with the 2010 vintage. Although Magnien’s ’09s hit our shelves, high demand for the vintage caused them to disappear well before we had the chance to properly introduce this small domaine to all of you. But now the ’11s are here and well, it’s time to give these wines the attention they deserve! The 2011 Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru Cuvee “Aux Petites Noix” (phew, that’s a mouth full!), is a sensational wine that captures both the specificity of its appellation and the charm of the vintage. The “Petites Noix” is a blend of two parcels, “Les Gruenchers” and “Clos Baulet”. The parcels are relatively close in proximity, share similar soil structures and are thought to express the Gevrey-Chambertin side of Morey Saint Denis. The wine has notable structure with plenty of fleshy fruit.

 

Domaine Stephane Magnien has only 4.5 hectares of vines which, even for Burgundy, is considered small. Even so, Stephane, who took over the domaine from his father in ’08, is the fourth generation vigneron to live and work at the family home and cellars that date back to the late 1700’s. Young Stephane embraces traditional winemaking methods and is guided by the principle of preserving the integrity of the wine. Translation: natural practices in the vineyards, manual harvest, not forcing extraction, aging in barrel but not much of it new. What stands out for me when I taste Stephane’s wines, is the perky, fresh elegant red berry fruit and its seamless structure. The charming nature of the ’11 vintage is evident in this “Petites Noix” and so is the ripe, but not over-ripe, fruit. 2011 is thought to be an early drinking vintage. This means you can open this bottle now or over the next few years (decanting it a bit wouldn’t hurt either) without guilt. Burgundy can be a minefield when trying to determine optimal drinking windows, true, however the 2011 Morey Saint Denis “Petites Noix” from Stephane Magnien is showing its stuff now, so go ahead and imbibe!

 

Yields for ’10, ’11 and ’12 in Burgundy were all down. I read somewhere that if you combined the totals for all three vintages against normal years, an entire harvest was lost! Thirst for Burgundy remains high and the big, collectable names are allocated in dribs and drabs. There is good news and that is this, TWH makes every effort to continue to discover new energetic domaines from Burgundy that offer quality, value and pleasure – Domaine Stephane Magnien is such a producer. The 2011 “Petites Noix” is a direct import, therefore it will discount 15% when purchased by the case or as part of one. I’d like to think I can buy full cases of Burgundy to have on hand and if I did, I certainly would buy the 2011 “Petites Noix”. If buying a bottle or two is more your style, include it with some of our every-day wine gems to take advantage of the 15% savings. 

 

At home, the school year is wrapping up and summer activities are being lined up. Personally, I am a great advocate for unstructured, unplanned stretches of time, preferably spent outside somewhere, even the backyard. With summer hours approaching, a midweek meal might include a fancier bottle of red (I am crossing my fingers!) like the 2011 Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru Cuvee “Aux Petites Noix”. I can visualize a medium-rare leg of lamb with a garden-grown vegetable tian accompanied by the juicy red cherry fruit, sweet tannins and elegant finish of the 2011 “Petites Noix”. Now that sounds like a summer vacation to me! Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Burgundy, Morey-Saint-Denis, Pinot Noir, Stephane Magnien

Boudinaud’s 2012 Syrah Grenache

“We tried the 2012 Syrah Grenache; WOW is it great!”. That’s how I was greeted when I came into work on Thursday. I hadn’t yet tried the 2012 Syrah Grenache from Boudinaud myself, but I had taken home a bottle over the weekend. I was planning on opening it soon anyway, but with such a resounding endorsement from the crew, I was compelled to open it that evening. When it comes to trying out new vintages of our value-priced direct imports, I don’t like being the odd man out. Deeply relieved, I too found the wine to be delicious. Relieved? Yes, relieved because Boudinaud’s Syrah Grenache is my ‘house red’ as it were. When in doubt or not sure what meal plans lay ahead, I know I can’t go wrong with this versatile, charming red.
 


I wouldn’t say the 2012 Syrah Grenache is a departure from past vintages, but it clearly has more stuffing to it and a distinctly Rhone-like herby thread that weaves through the nose and palate. David remembered that the 2012 Syrah Grenache is for the first time 100% de-stemmed and is what probably gives the wine the added dimension. The fruit is redolent of black and red berries, fresh and bright but not tanky; it is more akin to a Cotes du Rhone than the average Southern French fighting varietal. Boudinaud’s winery is located in Fournès, a small village between Avignon and Nîmes, and very near the famous Pont Gard. Boudinaud’s vineyards are both within the Cotes du Rhone appellation and just next to it. The 2012 Syrah Grenache is more than fairly priced with lots of personality and a sense of place. 

 

Next month, along with my siblings, I will be throwing a 60th Wedding Anniversary party for my parents. It will be a daytime garden affair. The menu will include a whole spit-roasted pig and salmon. So far, the 2012 Syrah Grenache is my front runner for the red selection. I think it will go equally well with the fish and animal. And because this is a daytime event, I don’t think a heavy powerful red is appropriate or necessary.  I like the freshness and liveliness of the tank-fermented Boudinaud Syrah Grenache. It will be a far more pleasant drink and food companion than something with stronger tannins and oak. Plus, as I tried to convey above, this red is not lacking in the fruit department; it has plenty of WOW factor. Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Grenache, Languedoc, Syrah