Little Stones From The Rhone: 2011 Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles



The Northern Rhône, to be exact. One of my favorite pairing memories from my early days here at TWH was when I was invited to some friends’ house after work for “something that has been on the smoker for hours.” With little first hand experience of tasting the wide selection of red wines on our shelves, I consulted our pal Ben, and he put a 5 year old bottle of Northern Rhône Syrah in my hands. “It’s got structure and ample fruit, but this Syrah has a smoky-meaty quality that will work perfect with your dinner.” The words are seared in my memory because the pairing was perfect. So perfect that my friends loaded up on the wine because their smoker and grill were used pretty often. That wine is long gone, but in the world of 5 year old (okay, 4.5 years) Northern Rhône Syrah, we’ve got a pretty dang good deal!



Crozes-Hermitage surrounds the tiny, and much more expensive appellation of Hermitage on the east bank of the Rhône River just north of the commune of Valence. Syrah is the red grape of the region, and many of the wines from this part of the world have a distinct smoky-meaty-gamey nuance to them. That was certainly the case with the wine I mentioned in the above paragraph. Tonight’s wine has it as well, but there’s more!

One of the wines in the August 2015 Dirty Dozen is the 2011 Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles. Due to the budget of our monthly sampler, we could only include a half bottle in the DD, but as Anya advised me,“Our Dirty Dozen customers deserve a treat like Crozes-Hermitage!” A treat it is. The best way that I can describe it is that it’s a red wine that can do it all. It’s got enough fruit and balance to be enjoyed on its own, and now that it’s spent some time in bottle, it has the complexity to be enjoyed with your victuals.


The Wine Advocate’s Rhône specialist, Jeb Dunnuck had this to say about the 2011 Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles:

“Starting off the 2011s and another delicious, classically constructed effort from this producer, the 2011 Crozes Hermitage Les Pierrelles exhibits ample blackberry, pepper, underbrush and textbook northern Rhone meatiness to go with a medium-bodied, fruit forward and nicely textured profile on the palate. Despite the up-front feel here, it firms up nicely on the finish and should have a gradual evolution. This was a rock solid lineup from this tiny, family owned estate. 89 points”


Being August, I’ve made a point of hitting the farmers’ market each Sunday. The assortment of summer’s bounty is fantastic, with sights and smells that only come this time of year. Speaking of smells, I’ve had to wash a lot of clothes lately, mostly because I’ve been standing around a lot of smoking barbecues. I don’t necessarily want to do more laundry on my day off tomorrow, but if I have to, I have to. That’s the good thing about taking home a bottle of the 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles: The barbecue is optional. – Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about smoked meats, grilling, the northern Rhône, Bordeaux, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, Peter Zavialoff, Syrah

2012 Neely: Single-Block Pinot Noir From The Santa Cruz Mountains


2012 NEELY PINOT NOIR:
Upper Picnic & Hidden Block

Jim Varner says the trick to Pinot Noir is learning to know when not to intercede. Jim and his winemaker brother, Bob, place their trust in the inherent goodness of the fruit grown on Spring Ridge Vineyard that goes into their Neely Pinot Noir. The Spring Ridge Vineyard is a unique site. It is situated next to an open space preserve and sits on a property that spans elevations from 500 ft to 1800 ft. in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This protected area experiences typical Bay Area maritime weather but at the altitude which the vineyard sits, the nights are even cooler and daytime highs are less sizzling, making it ideal for grape growing.

Jim Varner
In early July, Jim came by the store to taste us on the newly released Varner Chardonnays and Neely Pinot Noirs. So why the two different names? I’ll try to keep the explanation as simple as possible. Jim and Bob Varner planted Chardonnay at Spring Ridge Vineyard in the 80’s. In 1995, the property was sold to the Neely family. The Neely’s decided to plant Pinot Noir with the help of the Varners and wisely had them make the wine too! The approach to planting the Pinot Noir was similar to how the Chardonnay was planted, in small parcels or blocks. I won’t go into how terrific the Varner Chardonnays were for the moment because what I want to focus on are their fabulous Pinot Noirs.

A hard day at the office
The 2012s are fleshy and open-armed with distinct personalities. The first one I tasted was the Hidden Block. It immediately triggered a happy taste memory – Dujac of yore. The Hidden Block has that intriguing interplay of strawberry/cherry fruit with just a hint of green. Not vegetal, mind you, but green like stems and leaves. I love that in Pinot Noir, though I find it more often in Burgundy than in domestic Pinots. And then came the Upper Picnic – lots of deep red cherry fruit and with more oomph and power than the Hidden Block. For both wines, after press, the Pinot Noir is put into tank and then a short time later into barrel. The Varners feel this helps to soften the oak influence on the wine.

In talking with Jim, I am fascinated at how the Varners continue to make adjustments, experiment and push themselves to make the best possible wine. There are no recipes here other than trying to get out of the way of the fruit. For such experienced winemakers and highly respected ones at that, the Varners make it seem as if there is mystery in every vintage. I like that about them, they are truly humble winemakers.

On the home front, this is going to be a very BIG weekend – my eldest nephew is getting married! The reception will be catered by family and friends – I’ll be supplying the wine and, NO, it won’t be Neely Pinot Noir. I’m on a budget after all. Besides the Upper Picnic and Hidden Block are allocated to us, so supply is limited. – Anya Balistreri

Here’s what Antonio Galloni writes about Hidden Block:
Succulent red cherries, raspberries, mint, sweet spices and tobacco open up effortlessly in the 2012 Pinot Noir Hidden Block from Neely. Open-knit and absolutely delicious, the 2012 is gorgeous today and should drink well for the better part of the next decade. Pretty crushed rose petal notes add perfume on the gracious, super-expressive finish. 92 points.

And Antonio Galloni’s review of the Upper Picnic:
“Dark red cherry, plum, tobacco and spice blossom in an ample, generous Pinot Noir….The creamy, expressive finish suggests the 2012 will drink well with minimal cellaring. This parcel was regrafted in 2006 to own-rooted vines. 93 points.”

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains

2010 Domaine Alain Michelot Bourgogne Rouge



Isn’t it great when things come full circle? It happens a lot here at TWH. An example of the traditional route of things coming full circle here would be when we travel overseas, taste a slew of wines, make some decisions, purchase the wines that we like best, return home and wait until they finally make it here, and then we put them in your hands. That’s the traditional route. I was recently made aware of one further step to “full circle.” That’s when something we taste overseas makes it over here, a customer takes it home, and then a few years later, the customer pours it in a glass and hands it to me. Now that’s FULL circle! In an effort to put it out there to the universe, that’s what I am attempting to do here. If you buy this wine and don’t share it with me a few years down the road, I won’t mind, but just know that you will possess a wine that will provide pleasure for yourself and those who you do choose to share your wine with!


It should go without saying, but all of my close friends who like wine are TWH customers. That’s not a stretch. In fact, it was my best friend who tossed out this line to me before my first interview with David all those years ago: “Tell him you’ve got an order for a case of Bordeaux in your pocket if he hires you … if that helps.” Too cool, right? Well, this buddy of mine just got married last month, and the newlyweds threw a little shindig to celebrate at their home. Of course beverages were served and I was in charge of making sure that those who were drinking wine, myself included, were taken care of. The wines being served were selected before my arrival, and I was delighted to see 3 bottles of an old favorite on the table when I got there. When I took my first sip, I proudly smiled and silently celebrated the victory. I aspire to repeat this feat a few years down the road with the 2010 Bourgogne Rouge from Domaine Alain Michelot.


Red Burgundy can be pricey. Something that we strive to do, and succeed at, is finding wines of quality that aren’t pricey. We’ve been importing the wines from Michelot since the 1990’s; their nearly 8 hectares of vineyards are located in Nuits-Saint-Georges and Morey-Saint-Denis. The domaine dates back to the 1880’s, and Alain’s daughter Élodie represents the fifth generation running the show there. With a little bit of modern know-how, yet in keeping with the domaine’s traditional style, Élodie makes wine that expresses her respective terroirs. Her Premier Cru offerings have quite the following among Burgundy lovers and the 2010 vintage was outstanding, producing wines of substantial structure and expression, all with marvelous balance. The Premiers and Grands Crus will need lots of time in the cellar to show their best, but her Bourgogne is a more modest wine that can be enjoyed today or up to another 7 years down the road. It is a fuller-bodied Bourgogne, yet the fruit manages to stay in focus throughout the entire tasting experience. Serve it blind, and you may hear some guesses that it is a Nuits-Saint-Georges, as the fruit is sourced from vines in the south of the appellation. The wine is well worth the regular price of $28.99, but for this weekend only, starting now, it’s just $19.95 a bottle. This is going to sell out, and we apologize for that, but there’s a container about to land and we need the space!

So there you go; I’m putting it out to the universe. Actually, I was a little more proactive than that. I have what we call an “open order,” or the authorization to assign particularly good deals to some of my close friends. I’m hoping they can be patient enough to hang on to a few bottles of the 2010 Bourgogne Rouge from Domaine Alain Michelot for a party a few years down the road! – Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under Burgundy, Peter Zavialoff, Pinot Noir

The August 2015 Dirty Dozen


Ah, summertime. How kind of the calendar makers to give us back to back 31 day months in the middle of it! What to do in the month of August? Let’s look at France for inspiration; they take the month off! Well okay, most of us have to wake up and do what we have to do, but the DD can help make the dog days of summer more pleasurable. 12 wines, all chosen for their versatility, for one incredibly low price, The August 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

Click here to purchase the Dirty Dozen for $109.

2014 Pays du Gard Rosé, Domaine Saint Antoine $11.49, $9.19 reorder

A perennial TWH favorite, the brand new 2014 Saint Antoine Rosé has arrived! The 2014 marked the umpteenth time we’ve carried a new vintage from this tried and true producer from the south of France. It’s one of our more full-bodied Rosé wines that boasts aromas of candied red fruit and chalky minerals. The screwcap makes it great for picnics.

2014 Costières de Nîmes, Les Cimels Blanc, Château d’Or et de Gueules $15.99, $12.79 reorder

Making its DD debut is a brand new wine for us, Les Cimels Blanc. Made by one of our favorite producers in the Rhône Valley, it’s a blend of Grenache Blanc (70%), Rolle (15%), and Roussanne (15%). It shows hints of pineapples and peaches with lively acidity and a medium body. Pair this with a grilled chicken breast with caramelized onions and gruyère.

2013 Côtes de Gascogne Les Tours, Domaine La Hitaire $9.99, $7.99 reorder

Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Gros Manseng … not exactly household names; blend them together 65-30-5% respectively, and you have one of our favorite easy quaffing, crisp white wines in the shop. All tank fermented, it’s fresh as a daisy with hints of Granny Smith apples and other orchard fruit. It’s great on its own, and even better with a scampi risotto.

2013 Montenovo Godello, Valdesil $14.98 net price, $13.48 reorder

After near extinction in the 1970’s, Godello is making a strong comeback in Spain. A family-run estate, Valdesil makes this one from their youngest vines grown on black slate. Citrus and under-ripe apple harken Chardonnay-like flavors, but the acid here is much more apparent. Grilled octopus, shrimp or scallops pair beautifully as would a shady nook.

2014 Verdicchio del Castelli di Jesi, Raphael $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder

Verdicchio, an ancient Italian grape variety, thrives in the Marche region whose entire eastern edge borders the Adriatic Sea. Maurizio Marchetti works in collaboration with his grower neighbors to make this affordable, crisp and lively white. Notes of white flowers and saline give way to dried tropical fruit flavors. Match up with pesto or shellfish pastas.

2012 Cabirol Blanc, Dit Celler $14.98, $13.48 reorder

This Catalonian white comes from organic vines aged 35-60 years grown in limestone and clay at over 1500 ft. elevations. A 50/50 blend of Garnacha Blanca and Macabeu, on the nose there are aromas of pears and apricots and on the palate flavors of guava and bitter almonds. Try with zucchini fritters or heirloom tomato bruschetta out on the deck!

2013 Grenache VDP, Brunel $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder

Brunel’s Grenache may be simple in its approach – vinified from 40 year old vines, aged and fermented in tank – but the resulting wine is not! Medium-bodied with ripe strawberry fruit lifted by scents of classic Provençal herbs like lavender and sage. Goes with just about anything, however ginger, garlic and soy-marinated chuck steak would work well here!

2013 BlauFranker Liter, Pfneisl $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder

This Austrian Blaufränkisch comes from sisters, Birgit and Katrin Pfneisl, who also work with this grape in Hungary where it is known as Kékfrankos. Juicy, succulent and spicy, light in body like Gamay, but with plenty of freshness, this is an ideal summer red. Give it a slight chill, if you want, and pair with turkey burgers or Sheboygan Brats.

2013 Rosso Conero, Marchetti $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder

Another wine from Marchetti (see Verdicchio above), his Rosso Conero is an elegant expression of the Montepulciano grape. Dark, smoky with deep ripe plum flavors, this red has some real chew on it! Take this wine to enjoy al fresco – it’ll stand up to your boldest bbq/grill food favorites. May we suggest a spice-rubbed T-Bone or smoky pork and beans.

2012 Côtes du Rhône Mataró, Vignobles Boudinaud $17.99, $15.28 reorder

And along comes a Côtes du Rhône made from 100% Mourvèdre, or Mataró as its locally known in Catalonia and along the southern French Mediterranean coast. It’s medium-full bodied with a gamey presence and rounded edges. As we get caught up with plating sizzling steaks and chops from off the grill, Boudinaud’s Mataró should pair perfectly with them.

2012 Barco Reale di Carmignano, Le Farnete $14.59, $11.67 reorder

Toning things down a bit is a versatile little number from Tuscany. Longtime TWH producer Enrico Pierazzuoli blends 80% Sangiovese with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon to give us his Barco Reale. The result is zippy and high-toned with layers of red fruits and herbs. What to pair with it? Easy answers: Pasta with red sauce, pizza, or grilled mild Italian sausages.

2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles, Domaine Belle 375ml $13.49, $10.79 reorder

Whoa! Crozes-Hermitage in the Dirty Dozen?!! Okay, it is in half bottle, which is perfect when looking for just a glass or two to share, and Crozes-Hermitage sure deserves to be shared! Pure Syrah fruit and that rocky Crozes mineral give the wine its name, Les Pierelles, or the little stones. Serve it with that low-and-slow smoked brisket.

Check Out Our Complete Inventory at Click here to purchase all 12 wines for $109!

Reg. $162.42

On Sale $109.00


buy The Dirty Dozen

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Peter Zavialoff, The Dirty Dozen, Wine Clubs/Samplers

2012 Domaine Fondreche Ventoux Cuvee Persia – A Special Red For Grill Night


2012 Domaine Fondrèche Ventoux Cuvée Persia

Well, that’s a little more like it. Our typical summer in SF weather is back, just in time to shroud The Outside Lands concerts with nature’s air conditioning, known around here as Karl The Fog. Despite the atypical weather patterns that we have been enduring this year, the summer fog is something we can depend on! Not all is lost. If one prefers sunshine and warmer weather, just head north, east, or south some 10 miles or more, and you’ll find some. In keeping things cool, the fog does enable us to add a category to our wine drinking options: Red wine. It’s good to have options, and after being tantalized by a photo posted today by Olivier’s Butchery, I opt to indulge in their grill-ready hanger steak. Hmmm. What to drink with it? I recently had a fine tasting experience with the dregs of a bottle of 2012 Domaine Fondrèche Ventoux Cuvée Persia that went out on sales calls for a day. It’s time to call one of my food & wine pals and pop a bottle!

Domaine Fondrèche is not a newcomer, nor a stranger to me. I have enjoyed many of winemaker Sébastien Vincenti’s wines over the years, their reflections of place and their purity of fruit have had a place at my table since my beginnings here at TWH. To me, Sébastien’s Cuvée Persia has always been a big, big fancy wine that needed something substantial on the plate to stand up to it. So after a long day here at the shop, out popped 7 or so sample bottles that were poured for wholesale accounts, and Tom, Chris, and I headed for the tasting room to see how they were showing. There were Rosés, a bottle of white, and 3 different 2012 cuvées of Fondrèche. I knew going in that, of the reds, I wanted to taste the Cuvée Persia last. That’s what experience will do for you. Short of appetizers, let alone a well seasoned, grilled hanger steak, I was preparing myself for another big, youthful vintage of the Persia. I was in for a surprise. I found the sample rather giving and expressive. It’s still a big wine, and yes, the grilled hanger steak will help, but it was beaming with complexity! So much so, that despite the weather on that particular evening, I was going to drink red. It’s not in the Tuesday night wine price category, but if you consider what the well-known fancy producers around the Rhône Valley get for their wines, there is tremendous value here.

Here is what The Wine Advocate’s Jeb Dunnuck had to say about the 2012 Cuvée Persia: The 2012 Ventoux Persia is Syrah dominated, yet incorporates 10% Mourvèdre. It’s aged half in small barrels and the balance in a mix of concrete and foudre. Silky, fabulously polished and full-bodied, it gives up lots of cassis, black raspberry, roasted meats and graphite. While it’s upfront and supple, it will evolve gracefully on its purity and balance. 91 points”

Having lived in the SF Bay Area all my life, I have always appreciated the summer fog, for if things get too warm (I begin to melt at around 73F), I can always head back into the thick of it for a little relief. And hey, if it gets me grilling and popping amazing red wine, all the better! – Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under Cotes du Ventoux, Peter Zavialoff, Rhone, Syrah

2012 Domaine Saint Barbe Vire-Clesse Vieilles Vignes – No Apologies



Q. Does one need to pay large amounts of money for a tasty bottle of white Burgundy?


Regular TWH customers already know the answer to that one.

A. Nope.

As importers, we have the luxury of meeting the producers, making the right deals, and getting the wines into the hands of our customers for less expenditure than the majority of wine merchants nationwide. Take our experience and our many relationships into consideration, and it’s not long before our showroom resembles a treasure chest of wine value. As if that’s not enough, every now and then, we have a sale where an item is marked down even further! That’s what we’re going to do today (and this weekend) with a solid white Burgundy which is now the best white wine deal in the shop. The 2012 Domaine Sainte Barbe Viré-Clessé Vieilles Vignes was another great direct-import value at $24.29 per bottle. Starting now, this weekend only, we’re going to slash that price by 35%. Starting now it’s $15.75 per bottle. Ready, set, go!


No apologies. All too often we hear about wines from humble, farming appellations being compared to wines that come from fancy, well-known, well-marketed origins; as in “The Meursault of the Mâcon.” No apologies. This wine is not Meursault. If you want Meursault, we have Meursault that we can sell you. No, this is Viré-Clessé. And you know what? It tastes like Viré-Clessé; and that’s a good thing!


I wrote a little blurb this past spring about Jean-Marie Chaland and his Domaine Sainte Barbe. So did Anya, here. Mentioning the 2012 Viré-Clessé, which comes from vines that are 55 years old, I went on to suggest that it will “hit its happy zone in 2017”, and no doubt, it will be great then, but judging from the bottle we opened this afternoon, I don’t think it’ll be around in 2017! It’s all tank-fermented, so it’s fresh and pure. The aromas are opulent. I got big-time apple-y Chardonnay fruit. I really couldn’t get past this apple characteristic, but I hadn’t yet tasted the wine. I asked Anya and Chris to give me their impressions. Chris and I are on the same page with the apple thing, Anya dug a little deeper. She explained that it was a bit of a surprise as to how the rich aromatic profile lulled us into thinking it would be super opulent, but it wasn’t. The wine has racy acidity that keeps the fruit in check in fine harmony. The more I sat with the glass, the more nuances I picked out. There are hints of stony minerals as well as a kiss of citrus blossom. Pretty classy stuff for $24.29 per bottle. Wait. Make that $15.75! Ready, set, go!

Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under Macon, Peter Zavialoff, Vire-Clesse

2013 Juicy Rebound Juicy Villages Cuvee Unique No. 34 – The Name Begins With Juicy


2013 Juicy Rebound
Juicy Villages Cuvée Unique No. 34

Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne: ingredients for making the perfect white Rhône only this one doesn’t come from Côtes du Rhône, not even the Côstières de Nîmes or the Languedoc for that matter. This charming wine comes from the climats de Northern California. When Mary Danielak, partner and wife of winemaker Douglas Danielak, sent an email asking to see if she could pour us something new from Juicy Rebound, we were intrigued. First of all, Douglas makes some of the best Chardonnay from anywhere on the planet under the label Pont Neuf. Second, previous vintages of Juicy Rebound wines have been positively received (and drunk) by our customers. The Syrah and Grenache-based Juicy Villages reds from Juicy Rebound offer top quality fruit from exclusive vineyard sites offered at incredible value. All of Douglas’ wines are made in minuscule amounts, so his wines are not made nor meant for the masses. Douglas makes wines that clearly show off his unabashed love of French wines all the while being deeply rooted in northern California.

Garden Grapes

Mary came by the store not too long ago to pour us a sample of the 2014 Juicy Rebound Juicy Villages Cuvée No. 34. It is a long trek from Angwin, where they live in northern Napa, but like most country folk, other than the traffic and parking, visiting the big city can be a treat. Mary was a wine buyer for nearly two decades at an influential Napa Valley store before leaving to work full time with Douglas on their own wine projects, so she knows to pour the wine and wait before jumping in and giving her thoughts on the wine. Truthfully, nothing Mary could have said or added in terms of a wine story or technical notes would have changed my mind on the wine…I loved it! The thing with Douglas’ wines is that they weave varietal character with richness but never venture over the top – in a word, balanced.

Russian River Valley Sunset

Rhône white varietals, in particular Viognier, can be very tricky to vinify in California. Or at least that is my perception given my opinion that most Viogniers from California suffer from being flabby and redolent of canned fruit cocktail flavors – not necessarily my cup of tea. On the other hand, the Juicy Villages Cuvée No. 34 takes that exotic note of Viognier and places it in check with some perky acidity and crunch – that’s where the Roussanne and Marsanne come into play. The texture is pretty luxe and the fruit flavors go the way of apricot and apriums with light touches of jasmine on the nose. It is a very pretty wine that I can’t help but think is perfect for late summer sippin’. It has all of the fruit but none of the oak/butter qualities of Chardonnay, so it is super refreshing yet super versatile food-wise.

Walking on Water

This is my first day back at the store in over a week. After hosting a wedding shower for my nephew’s fiancé last weekend, I headed north with the husband, the girl and the dog in tow to spend a week at my happy place, the Russian River. Mornings were spent lazily with some time devoted to clean up around the dacha before heading down to the beach. Normally, I can’t seem to pull myself away from beach time, but I did get motivated one afternoon to visit one of my favorite wineries to taste some new releases and wine out of barrel – I’ll be sharing highlights of that visit soon. As for now, a bottle of 2014 Juicy Rebound Juicy Villages Cuvée No. 34 is going home with me. Tomorrow will be dinner with friends and I just know the Cuvée No. 34 will dazzle my guests. – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, White New World Rhone Blends