2015 Rampante Etna Bianco from Cantine Russo
The stable of Italian producers that TWH directly imports has increased by one: Cantine Russo. Cantine Russo sits on the northeast slope of Sicily’s Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The winery is family-run and can trace its winemaking roots back to 1860. It wasn’t until 1955 that Ciccio Russo began bottling wine to sell commercially. Ciccio’s son, Vincenzo is the current owner. Vincenzo runs the winery with his son, Francesco, who is the winemaker and his daughter, Gina, who handles the day-to-day operations.
In an article celebrating the women of Etna, Gina recalls running around her grandfather’s cellar with her brother. She describes her first harvest at about age 5 and claims to not have missed a single one in 40 years! This tight-knit bond the Russo family has to the land is common among natives of Etna. Having visited the area, I can understand the lure to stay in this harsh, yet painfully beautiful landscape. Over the last decade or so, more and more attention has been given to Sicilian wines particularly those from Mount Etna. It really is incredible to think about all the challenges and risks involved in growing grapes on an active volcano. It takes steadfast dedication.
Cantine Russo concentrates on indigenous varietals, like Carricante and Cataratto, which make up the blend for the 2015 Rampante Etna Bianco. Carricante makes up 80% of the blend and is thought to have grown in Sicily for at least a thousand years. Today it is fairly rare, only the 31st most planted grape variety on the island. It is noted for its acidity and citrusy flavors. Carricante is often blended with Cataratto, which is far more common, taking up nearly 60% of the island’s total vineyard area. Cataratto is low in acidity and therefore makes a nice blending partner with Carricante. The 2015 Rampante, though unoaked, is quite complex and above all is mineral-driven. The wine is golden-hued, the aromas are subtle and delicate…notes of flint and white pepper emerge slowly. If you like steely, nervy white wines, than the 2015 Rampante is right up your alley. I enjoyed a bottle over the course of three days. The wine stayed fresh and vibrant. I noticed different aspects with each glass. Though subtle, its definitely not a one-note kind of wine. I’d love to stow away a few bottles to see how it ages. My prediction is that is would do quite well in the near term.
I travelled to Sicily with my husband (who at the time was my boyfriend), his parents, sister and a cousin. It was a memorable trip with its ups and downs, and I long to go back. With each glass of the Rampante I imagined some of the dishes that stood out for me during that trip like the raw marinated shrimp or deep-fried baby whitebait. I can’t wait to try the 2015 Rampante with cracked Dungeness crab – now that should be quite a match!
I’ve been taking deep breaths lately. December is holding up to its promise of being a whirlwind month. My daughter, the thespian, is in six performances of Annie Jr. this weekend. Last night I signed up to volunteer in the dreaded “Room 5”. I’m not sure why no one signs up for this duty, which is to supervise the younger cast members. In this case, I was the “orphan wrangler.” Sure, the kids were super cute, boisterous and extremely talkative, but what touched me was the professionalism shown by these young actors. One orphan arrived late. By this time most of the costumes were spoken for. I helped her find something that would fit over her tiny body, pinning it were needed. She never complained that it wasn’t fair that somebody took her costume. No, nothing like that. Instead she reassured me that she was an orphan so didn’t need to wear anything special. Now that’s pretty special! – Anya Balistreri
We’re still scratching our heads here. How exactly did it get to be December already? Time flies, this we know. 2016 is on its way out, and 2017 is right around the corner. There’s plenty to do to get there, so hold on tight! There are holiday parties, corporate and private, and the holidays themselves. We’re making the wine part easy. 12 bottles, all chosen for versatility, in one box for one low price. The December Dirty Dozen.
Reorder Special !!! 20% off 6 bottles or more of any one regularly priced Dirty Dozen wine! Or 10%/Net Wines – 5%/ Sale Wines
2015 Picpoul de Pinet, Chevalier de Novato $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
Picpoul refers to both the appellation and the grape. The word itself translates to “lip-stinger” which suggests the zippy acidity of the wine. The appellation covers 3000 acres around the Ètang de Thau, a series of lagoons along the Mediterranean. Expect tonic-like freshness with fragrant, floral flavors. Serve well-chilled with any manner of shellfish.
2013 Verdejo, Atino $13.98 net price, $12.58 reorder
The aromatic grape, Verdejo, though planted throughout Spain is most at home in Rueda. Rueda is a region northwest of Madrid smack dab in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula. The climate is continental with hot, dry summers and cold, harsh winters. Crisp and citrusy with hints of flowers and clover on the palate, serve with crab cakes or Risotto Milanese.
2015 Moscato di Pavia, Centorri $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder
Three generations of women are credited for making this charming, playful Moscato – it tastes just like popping a fresh grape into your mouth. The vines are on average 20 years of age, lending complexity and depth. Low in alcohol and with a slight frizzante, try as an aperitif or as the closer to a meal. Or snuggle up on the couch with a glass and some cookies.
2013 Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Domaine Boudinaud $7.95 sale price, $7.55 reorder
We’re just not drinking enough white wine from the Rhône Valley. One can seldom go wrong with a white Côtes-du-Rhône: great blends and very fair prices. This CdR Blanc is made from 60% Grenache Blanc and 40% Roussanne, and it shows fresh, fleshy white and yellow fruit and has a crisp finish. Pair this with some seared scallops wrapped in bacon.
2014 Bush Vine Chenin Blanc, The Winery of Good Hope $9.95 sale price, $9.45 reorder
This is 100% Chenin Blanc is from old bush vines planted in decomposed granite facing the ocean. Those ocean breezes keep the fruit relatively cool and fresh, lending balancing acidity to the tangy, voluptuous, green apple-like fruit. It’s great wine to have by itself or one can try a variety of pairing ideas, including vegetable tempura or Fettuccine Alfredo.
2014 Mâcon Villages Les Tilles, Domaine Sainte Barbe $19.99, $15.99 reorder
White Burgundy. Among the critics, it is consensus that 2014 was a great vintage for Burgundy’s white wines. Domaine Sainte Barbe does not use any fancy new oak for their wines, preferring to showcase terroir and fresh fruit over the aromas new barrels impart. It’s got plenty of class and complexity, and would be great with that Dungeness crab!
2015 Le Loup Dans La Bergerie, Orliac $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
80% Grenache with the remainder Syrah, this juicy little number is the perfect “everyday” red wine. Why perfect? Well, the fruit is bright and lively, the tannins are soft, the acidity is balanced with the fruit, and no intrusive oak to speak of. Drink on its own or with food; it can do it all. Ideally suited for pizza in all its forms, calzone, or a messy meatball sub.
2013 Merlot, Jordanov $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder
A value like this would have to come from an under-represented, unknown wine region like land-locked Macedonia. How else could you make a Merlot from mature vines, age it in French oak for 14 months and offer it for well under $20? Notes of plum and blueberries mingle with herb for a classic presentation. Tasty with lamb ragoût or a prime rib roast.
2015 Cilegiolo Maremma, Morellino $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder
Winemaker Sergio Bucci is a strong believer that obscure Tuscan “field blend” varietals can stand on their own if properly understood and vinified. A case in point is this Cilegiolo – a red varietal typically blended into Chianti. Rarely do you see it bottled solo. Super charged red cherry flavors with aromas of sage and violets dominate. Va bene!
2013 Ventoux Rouge, Domaine Fondrèche $16.99, $13.59 reorder
Winemaker Sébastien Vincenti has done something unusual recently. He has eliminated one of his fancy labels (Nadal), and is now using those grapes in his entry level rouge. The result is an upper class Rhône blend, 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 20% Mourvèdre. It’s as versatile as it is classy. Serve it with pork wrapped, pork sausage-stuffed pork loin.
2015 Malbec, Alberto Furque $14.99, $11.99 reorder
Sourced from vineyards some 3000 feet in elevation, Alberto’s daughter Carolina has some mountain fruit to make her Malbec with. The grapes are fermented in steel tank and raised in concrete prior to bottling. This allows the fruit and terroir to shine. Deep and lush, the structure is bold, yet the nuances are delicate. It’s a good one for a juicy steak.
2013 Syrah/Grenache, Grange des Rouquette $10.99, $8.79 reorder
French country wine – 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, and 10% Mourvèdre, all tank fermented for optimal freshness here. This is the kind of wine served throughout the southern French countryside in cafés and bistros. It’s easy to quaff, with or without food, and easy on the budget. It’s a given to say this is great with a baguette, bowl of olives, and salumi.
It always happens. During our Anniversary Sale, the distractions are everywhere. Case in point; one of our regular customers who always participates in the Anniversary Sale popped in for a few special bottles today, and after he gave me his parameters, I quickly whittled down my mental list to a trio of contenders. He wanted something red and I had one red Bordeaux, one red Rhône, and a red Burgundy all set to recommend. Then I physically walked over to our Burgundy section. Oh, if price signs could talk …. Actually they were talking to me. All of them. But there was one in particular. I immediately replaced the 3 bottles in my head with the one in my hand. “You want something nice. A red wine from France. Something that can be laid down and drink well in 5 years’ time. Something special, but less than $75, right? This is it right here.” That is what I said to him. What was the bottle? The 2012 Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Les Faconnières from Stephane Magnien.
A little background on this. When I was a budding wine taster/collector, I worked for a guy who was less than pleasant to work for. In true “there’s an exception for every rule” fashion, this dude must have gone into a fine wine shop and asked a staffer to recommend two very nice bottles of red wine. He gave those two bottles to me during the holidays as a thank you. One was a Corison Cabernet and the other was a Clos Saint Denis from Domaine Dujac. At the time, I knew nothing about either one, and I’m sure that my benefactor didn’t either. I graciously accepted the gifts, and years later, when I opened the Dujac, I was overwhelmed. That was my introduction to Burgundy. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to have tasted something more affordable as a first Burgundy experience, but what can you do? That was all I knew about Burgundy at the time, and that led me to taste more wines from Morey-Saint-Denis and its environs. So let’s say that the village is a particular favorite for me.
A few years ago, when I found out that David had signed up Stephane Magnien to TWH stable, I was thrilled to see some Morey-Saint-Denis (and Clos Saint Denis!) in our bins. We don’t get to taste fancy wines like those often, but when we do, the occasions are memorable. Of his Premier Cru wines, I usually favor Stephane’s Les Faconnières. All I can say is that I like the other wines as well, but there’s an expression there that just fits with my palate and olfactory senses. Having tasted several 2012 red Burgundies over the past couple of years has solidified my opinion that it is a vintage to have in my cellar. In fact, a while back while researching the vintage for A Taste Of Burgundy write-up, I stumbled upon a note from Clive Coates, MW, “But in the end – quality-wise – 2012 has turned out, not merely ‘all right’, but really very good indeed, if not perhaps even very fine. I have already heard the wines refered to as ‘classic’. There are some who regard the potential of 2012 reds as superior to anything recent, and that includes 2010, 2009, 2005 and other years.” I don’t know about you, but if Clive Coates says something like that, I take note. A serious note.
As one can see, Les Faconnières lies just below the Grand Cru vineyards in Morey-Saint-Denis. As a matter of fact, you can draw an equilateral triangle whose three points would be in Clos-Saint-Denis, Clos de la Roche, and Les Faconnières. That’s some special sod, indeed. The wine is already showing its potential, but after another 5 years of cellar time, I anticipate it will be entering its optimal drinking plateau and staying there for many years. Its aromas express dark red berries, herbs, a healthy dose of earthy mineral and tar, and a kiss of vanilla bean. The palate is sturdy, yet balanced. The fruit is part of the package, which at this time is coiled, needing either aeration or a few more years of cellaring, but there’s no question that the fruit is just waiting for the structure to back off one small step for it to shine. The mouth feel is medium bodied with fine tannins, and the finish is balanced and all in line. The wines from Morey-Saint-Denis can be very expressive, and this young Morey has the ingredients to become a great wine some day in the not too distant future. Did I say it can be enjoyed now? Sure, but I highly recommend decanting for 90 minutes.
I’m hoping that you all are enjoying the Thanksgiving weekend! It has been a fun one for me. Of course I continued my Thanksgiving tradition of giving thanks and enjoying some fine Sauternes … or in this case, Barsac. ‘Cause that’s how I roll. You can probably guess the chateau. But with two months of special days ahead, there will be occasions for fine red wine as well. I see an opportunity to slip a 2012 Morey-Saint-Denis Les Faconnières from Stephane Magnien! – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments on Thanksgiving, our 39th Anniversary Sale, Bordeaux, Barsac, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com