There was a big announcement over at The Wine Advocate that Robert Parker Jr. was passing the baton over to Neal Martin, who will now be the sole reviewer of Bordeaux for the publication. For those of us who follow such things, this is a big deal. Yes, Parker has been reviewing far fewer wines, nevertheless, his impact on the wine industry lingers – especially in Bordeaux and California. What I have observed over the past five years or so is that because Parker is not featuring the portfolios of favored importers as frequently as he once did, the frenzy for some of the exceptional, under-the-radar values that he would highlight has faded. That is a shame. Case in point, the Cabernet-Syrah from Mas de Bressades has not been reviewed in The Wine Advocate for many, many vintages. However, if you were to look up past reviews for this wine you would see mostly scores of 90 & 91 points. Pretty impressive for a wine under $25. Back when I started at TWH, the Mas de Bressades Cabernet-Syrah was practically doled out case by case. Everyone had read how terrific the wine was and it had generated a loyal following among those searching for elevated French “country” wine.
TWH recently purchased the remaining stock of the Mas de Bressades 2012 Cabernet-Syrah at a crazy good price and we’re passing along the savings! It has been awhile since I last tasted a bottle, but I fondly remember the Mas de Bressades Cabernet-Syrah as being the jewel in the crown of Robert Kacher Selections’ offerings from the Costières de Nîmes. Bobby Kacher was a trailblazer in this region, recognizing its great potential for quality wine and began importing the best ones to the US nearly thirty years ago. The Costières de Nîmes was formerly lumped with eastern Languedoc wines, but the soil and climate more closely resembles southern Rhône. Therefore, Costières de Nîmes is now officially part of the Rhône Valley.
Mas de Bressades’ winemaker, Cyril Mares, is a sixth generation winemaker. His father, Roger, purchased the estate in the early ’60s. Cyril has added the moniker Les Vignes de Mon Pèreto the Cabernet-Syrah in honor of his father and, I think, to emphasis the old-vine pedigree of the grapes. The old-vine character of this wine is palpable; deep berry compote fruit gives way to cedar notes with a rich cassis finish. The wine is supple and coats the mouth with warm, sultry flavors. The blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah. I like to tell customers that it has the structure of Cabernet but with the elegant fruit notes of Syrah. Far from being rustic, this is French country wine at its best. You get fancy texture and flavors from the oak aging, the ripeness of the region but without the pearl clutching price of so many other notable French regions. This wine, though full-bodied, is suitable for showy main course masterpieces as well as more humble fare. You can even enjoy a glass on its own, if that is what the occasion calls for.
In my last post, I mentioned plans for a seaside escape. I am happy to report that the getaway was fabulous! Lots of happy memories made in four fun-filled days. We went to stay at a beachfront hotel in Santa Cruz with a group of friends with lots of children in tow. On the first evening of our arrival, while the children continued to play in the pool, the adults gathered around the gas fire pit to keep warm and chat. I shared the Mas de Bressades 2012 Cabernet-Syrah which we drank from hotel room water glasses. I am grateful to the tolerant hotel staff who kindly overlooked our bad behavior for breaking the “pool rules”. The warming flavors of the wine echoed the warming flames, enhancing the beauty of our surroundings. My friends, expecting a wine this tasty to be expensive, were shocked when I told them TWH sells it for $14.95! Such a deal! Share some bottles with your friends – I am confident they’ll also be impressed. – Anya Balistreri
And just like that, thanks to the folks at Air France, it’s back to San Francisco and here I am at the keyboard with another ramble. The Bordeaux En Primeurs trip to taste barrel samples of the 2015 (among other wines) was a great success! The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux did something new this year, and though I heard differing opinions about it, it certainly made my schedule easier to handle. On Monday, April 4, a day that is usually spent at chateaux appointments, they held a grand tasting at the new Stade Matmut Atlantique at which all 8 UGC appellations poured their wines. It was there that I was able to taste from 3 of these, and that freed up my schedule for the following three days to taste a whole lot of other wines. I’ve got a lot to say about the trip and the wines I tasted, and I plan to do so very soon, but tonight I’ll try to keep it light and general.
The 2015 Bordeaux vintage is a very good one for red wines. There, I said it. Was it the vintage of the century? No. Was it the vintage of the decade? No. Was it a great vintage? No. Were there some great barrel samples with the potential to become great wines? Yes. Were there disappointments? Yes. What appellations’ samples showed the best? Pomerol, Pessac-Léognan, and Margaux in general terms. Will there be some great, affordable, high-quality petits chateaux wines? Yes, but here we must be very selective. It was a challenging vintage for those kind of wines.
After compiling my schedule prior to departure, I already knew that I would probably taste more wine this year that I ever had on the annual Bordeaux trip. After I returned last Monday, I put off going back through my notes and actually counting how many wines I tasted. Earlier today, I counted them. The tally: 599 wines in all; 439 barrel samples from 2015, 136 bottled wines from recent vintages, and 24 bottles that I actually got to drink from. Funny, it should have been 600, but there was one sample that earned this note in my tasting book, “Something’s wrong here; I’m not tasting this.” I am occasionally asked how I can possibly taste so many wines without suffering from palate fatigue. I can’t. I get palate fatigue all the time. When all of the sensations, acidity, and tannins begin to run into each other, I just take a time out. Sometimes I can recover by just smelling my notebook, sometimes I carry around a piece of bread and smell it from time to time to keep the olfactory fresh. Other times, I’ll take a full time out and eat some bread and cheese and drink some water. I am aware that there are others who taste way more wine than I do and I can only imagine their techniques to get back in the saddle and finish their respective jobs. Hats off to them.
So here I was, it was my last appointment on my last working day. Tasting wine at this particular appointment is a challenge to say the least, as they are all usually very modern, fully extracted barrel samples with loads of concentration and tannins. So I approached it expecting to suffer from lack of refreshment. Upon my arrival, I waded through the various rooms and salons of this complex that was not only showing off 2015 barrel samples, but finished wines from other parts of France. It was a bit maze-like, and I went through, then doubled back, and then through again when something caught my eye – MEURSAULT! Do you want to put a smile on the face of someone who has tasted a boatload of tannic, acidic barrel samples and who is bracing himself for one final purple assault? Offer them Meursault. That will do the trick. Every time.
Meursault has quite a following. It enjoys a fine reputation of being one of the “Big Three” white Burgundy appellations, and its Premier Crus are famous enough to cause Pavlovian salivation from its fans at the mere mention of its hallowed name, Meursault. We’ve been importing the wines from Paul Pernot’s grandson Philippe for several vintages now, and we continue to be happy with his wines which sport the Pernot-Belicard label. His 2013 Meursault Vieilles Vignes is an amazing wine with superb fruit definition, the classic Meursault soft mid-palate, and a fresh, crisp finish showcasing its complexity harmoniously. In a word, it is refreshing. Thinking of all of the pairing ideas that come with a wine like this is enough to make my head spin. The vines are in excess of 70 years old, and the complexity that you get from vines like this is impressive. The 2010 was stunning enough to get Anya to pen this write-up a couple of years ago.The 2013 is every bit as good with lively freshness. The sub $40 per bottle case price is as good a white Burgundy deal as we’re likely to find.
I am happy to report that the Bordeaux trip went very well. I met with several good friends, made some new friends, and was even handed a guitar in a restaurant at one point and played a song. Part of the exercise was to look out for some “under the radar” wines that are long on character and short on price. I found more than a handful of these kind of wines that I’m anxious to see here on our sales floor sometime later this year. They will be coming. The 2015 barrel samples? There were many successes; and they will be coming too. They’re just going to take a little longer. What to drink now? MEURSAULT! – Peter Zavialoff
Basic Facts for those of you who are new to the program: Every two months we select two Burgundies, one red and one white. We include write-ups detailing the background of the grower, the vineyard source, and the wine. Finally we knock a significant percentage off the prices of the wines, making the Sampler price $89.98. If you would like us to add you to the Sampler Club and receive the wines regularly, please notify us in the comments field, and we will charge your card accordingly. If you would like us to ship faster than the standard ground service, please specify this as well.
2013 Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly Domaine Sylvain Langoureau
Having directed this 9 hectare domaine since 1989, Sylvain Langoureau now farms 100% organically. In an atypical vintage such as 2013, this could present some challenges, though Langoureau describes his 2013’s as, “completely classic with great energy and transparency.” He went on to say, “I like the style of the vintage quite a bit as it’s tighter and fresher if less generous than 2012.” This, of course, is great news for those of us who enjoy sleeker styled white Burgundy teeming with freshness. Saint-Aubin spreads out among the hillsides above and west of the Côte de Beaune’s cluster of Grands Crus vineyards. The Premier Cru En Remilly vineyard is adjacent to, and extends around the corner from Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet with direct western exposure. In Burgundy, it’s all about location, location, location, and rubbing elbows with such prestigious neighbors, Sylvain’s Saint-Aubin En Remilly is pure class in a modest package. This 2013 shows a degree of ripeness with a solid core of saline-like mineral. Drink now – 2025.
2013 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers Domaine Stéphane Magnien
Youthful Stéphane Magnien represents the fourth generation at the helm of this domaine which according to Burghound’s Allen Meadows, “comprises only 4.5 ha, but has some lovely appellations.” This Magnien domaine can trace its roots to 1897, though the cellars and family’s house are from 1789! Stéphane began assisting his father, Jean-Paul in 2002, and took over in 2008. He has old-school tendencies, as he is not a big fan of new oak barrels, using them sparingly to deftly add a touch of texture to his terroir driven wines. His 1er Cru Les Sentiers is his most expensive Premier Cru, as it lies just under the hallowed Bonnes Mares Grand Cru in Chambolle-Musigny. Again, the 2013 vintage had its challenges weather-wise, and production was very low. The good news is that the fruit that made it to harvest was of top-notch quality. This 2013 is rich in aromatic profile with lovely layers of fresh, dark berry fruit and the palate is structured harmoniously. It’s a serious wine whose proximity to Bonnes Mares is apparent. Drink 2020-2030. – Peter Zavialoff
West of the Adige River and south of Trento is where the grapes for de Tarczal’s Marzemino d’Isera grow. Here the soils are a nutrient-rich basalt, a volcanic rock. Marzemino, a grape whose history can be traced back to the 15th century as having been grown in Trentino, was once greatly favored among the aristocracy. In more modern times, the grape has been overshadowed by other regional varietals like Teroldego and Lagrein. Only a few non-cooperative, family-run estates, like de Tarczal, still bother to vinify it. A dark-skinned, late-ripening grape, the challenge historically has been to get it fully ripened and to prevent vine disease.
As you would probably guess by now, de Tarczal can trace its family history of making wine far back in time. An admiral in the Austro-Hungarian army, Gèza Dell’Adami de Tarczal married the Countess Alberti, whose family was well-established in Trentino, and the rest is wine-making history. Today their direct descendent Ruggero de Tarczal makes the wine and runs the winery which also houses a small restaurant serving regional specialities.
Apart from the wines TWH imports directly from Italy, the Italian wines we carry are purchased primarily from a select handful of like-minded local importers who prefer to champion small, family-run estates. One such importer makes biannual offers for wines that are either too limited or specialized to offer throughout the year. That is how the 2013 Marzemino d’Isera from de Tarczal came to our attention. Of the many wines poured that day, the Marzemino was one that I made sure had plenty left in the glass for the gang to try. I was captivated by the freshness and elegant fruit quality of this Marzemino. I had a strong hunch this wine would meet with approval, though I was still on the fence about ordering the wine for the store. After all, how often does someone come in asking for a Marzemino? Not often, I can assure you. Unusual or uncommon varietals aren’t ones we would normally shy away from, but still, you need to make smart buying decisions.
At any rate, the work day ended and I invited the crew to sample the day’s winners. The 2013 Marzemino was a hit as I suspected. The Loire-ish quality of the wine, with its strawberry fruit flavors and appealing herbal notes, met well with everyone’s palates. Though my notes included many emphatically underlined words, it was a comment by Pete that best summed up our collective thoughts on the wine. He said the 2013 Marzemino d’Isera “smells like someone buried a jellybean”! I love that image of a delicious confection buried underneath dirt and earth. This red really does exhibit a lovely, playful back and forth between its fruit and soil notes.
My daughter’s middle school has its Spring Break this week. We will be taking a much needed respite, high-tailing it out of town for some seaside rest and relaxation. I am looking forward to a change of scenery, some unscripted free-time and making new memories with friends. I will be bringing a few bottles along for the ride to enjoy poolside (that is if the rain doesn’t drive us indoors). Either way, I am so excited to be going anywhere, nothing is going to dampen my spirit! – Anya Balistreri
Just like with people, you often know whether you like a wine or not in the first 10 seconds. The aromas and flavors of Bodkin’s 2014 Chardonnay drew me in immediately and before the wine rep could screw back on the cap and put the bottle away in his wine tote, I placed an order. I don’t usually pull the trigger this quick. I like to mull over my decisions. Does this wine have an audience? Is it distinctive? Is there value for our customers? These questions were easily answered “yes” with one sip.
I had heard the buzz on Bodkin wines. New on the scene, Bodkin specializes in Sauvignon Blanc and has received much praise for producing the first ever sparkling wine made from this varietal in California! I have to admit, I initially thought this concept a bit gimmicky. The wine business is challenging enough…why complicate things further by making something for which there is no existing market? But then I met winemaker/proprietor Chris Christenson at a trade tasting and it all began to make sense to me. I mean this as a compliment, Chris is a geek, a nerd, who has particular interests and passions and follows them. Chris did not strike me as someone who follows the crowd. The whole concept of Bodkin wines is a clear reflection of Chris’s interests – from Medieval history and literature to making wine his way.
The 2014 Chardonnay is dubbed The Fearlessin honor of the 15th century French ruler, John the Fearless, who was Duke of Burgundy. This goes to show, Chris doesn’t take the easy marketing path by naming his wines after family members or pets. The Fearless is also so named, I think, because this Chardonnay is made slightly atypical compared to most California Chardonnay. First of all, it comes in at 13.4% abv which is low especially for Dry Creek Valley fruit. The wine spent time in French oak, but only a small portion of it new, did not go through malolactic fermentation and sat on its lees with no stirring. Finally, it was bottled unfiltered. All acceptable winemaking choices but not the norm in this part of the world. The resulting wine I find exciting and delicious. The aromatics hint at sweet tangy Meyer lemon and on the palate the zippy citrusy fruit is buoyed by the roundness imparted from the time in barrel sur-lie. The acidity is spiky and refreshing. The fruit couples with the acidity like the flavors of a Gravenstein apple that is green, has a few stripes of red on its skin but absolutely no hint of yellow! Snappy, succulent and irresistible!
I paired Bodkin’s 2014 Chardonnay with salmon croquettes. It was a great match since the salmon demanded a wine with body but the lightness of the dish needed acidity. I did a little dance around the kitchen after sampling the first croquette and washing it down with a sip of The Fearless.
Alas, April is upon us. Spring is officially here, the days are longer, and it’s time to reintroduce ourselves to the great outdoors! For our April Dirty Dozen, we’ve taken that into consideration, and present a box full of wine to enjoy with the sunshine. So gather up the troops, step outside, pop some corks, and enjoy the pleasant change of season. The April Dirty Dozen is simply an incredible deal!
Reorder Special !!! 20% off 6 bottles or more of any one regularly priced Dirty Dozen wine! Or 10%/Net Wines – 5%/ Sale Wines
2014 Grechetto, Argillae $14.98 Net Price, $13.48 Reorder If you’ve had Orvieto, then chances are you’ve tasted Grechetto but maybe didn’t know it. Along with Procanico, Grechetto makes up the majority blend of Orvieto. It has become fashionable to bottle this grape on its own, highlighting its beautiful floral character. Aromatic and crisp, this straw-yellow wine is delicious with dumplings, ravioli, or manti.
2014 Rueda, Casamaro $12.98 Net Price, $11.68 Reorder
At Casamaro the soil differs from much of Rueda because the vines grow on sand. Sand provides excellent drainage for the vines, many of which are over 100 years old! It is all free-run juice that is bottled straight from the tank. Lots of lemon and citrus fruit on the palate; it’s a luscious sipper, or it’ll pair well with patatas bravas smothered in garlicky aioli.
2014 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Sunnae, Col del Mondo $10.98 Net Price, $9.88 Reorder
The Sunnae makes its yearly appearance in the DD. Col del Mondo takes the humble Trebbiano and turns it into some-thing quite special by giving the care and attention the varietal needs to perform at its best; low yields, crop thinning and hand harvesting. White blossoms and delicate peach flavors dominate. Enjoy with a Cobb salad or pan fried trout.
2014 Rosé À Lisa, Domaine des Aspras $12.99, $10.39 Reorder
Brand new to us here at TWH, Domaine des Aspras is located in the Provençal village of Correns. The village was the locale of a famous Hollywood couple’s wedding. It also has the distinction of being the first wine village in France to farm organically in its entirety. The À Lisa Rosé is dry with floral aromas. Pair with light fare such as a Salade Niçoise.
2014 Château Couronneau Blanc $15.98 Net Price, $14.38 Reorder
Speaking of organic, Christophe Piat has been farming organically for several years, and has now earned Demeter certified Bio status. Here he blends 50% Sauvignon Blanc with Sauvignon Gris to give this dry white Bordeaux a fleshy middle. It’s a great little springtime bistro white. Fresh and expressive, pair it with a bowl of mussels and chillax.
2011 Vouvray Les Coudraies, Domaine d’Orseilles $20.79, $16.63 Reorder
Vouvray comes in varying degrees of sweetness, and this one is demi sec, which means it’s off-dry, or has a little sweetness to it. Don’t be put off by this, as sweet wines deserve a place at the dinner table. Ever try to pair a bone dry wine with hot and spicy Kung Pao Chicken? It doesn’t work, but this will. It will work with Shrimp Pad Kee Mao also.
2012 Minervois Grande Tradition, Château du Donjon $16.98 Net Price, $15.28 Reorder
Minervois, one of the oldest wine producing regions in the Languedoc, is especially beloved here at TWH. The old-world character shows through the sweet, ripe fruit. Equal parts Syrah and Grenache with a dose of Carignan, lending its telltale funk, this red is firm and structured yet sees no oak. Leg of lamb with spring veggies will match up nicely here!
2010 Garnacha Reserva, Campos de Luz $11.98 Net Price, $10.78 Reorder
Many of the Garnacha vines on this estate range in age from 40-80 years old. The Reserva is primarily Grenache with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon added to give it a structural backbone. Aged in oak for 18 months, the wine takes on a smooth, polished feel. The fruit flavors have mellowed and tamed into a cohesive blend. Serve with sweet-glazed wings or ribs.
2014 Pinot Noir, Underwood $11.98 Net Price, $10.78 Reorder
The folks behind Underwood have mastered the art of blending, using fruit from sites all over the state of Oregon to create an affordable, delicious Pinot Noir. Fresh, juicy cherry flavors mash up with hints of cola. The screw cap enclosure makes it perfect for picnics or for boisterous parties. Serve with meat pies, roast chicken or curry dishes.
2012 Tradicional, Quinta do Alqueve $11.29, $9.03 Reorder
The Tradicional has been one of TWH staff’s go-to inexpensive reds for many vintages; and we still scratch our heads and wonder how they can make a wine this good and charge so little. It’s made from four grapes: Touriga Nacional, Castelão, Tinta Roriz, and Trincadeira. Just pop and pour with any of your favorite red wine friendly dishes or a deep dish pizza.
2013 Barco Reale di Carmignano, Le Farnete $14.59, $11.67 Reorder
The “baby brother” of Enrico Pierazzuoli’s Carmignano DOCG, this Barco Reale can serve as a handy spaghetti red. It’s made from 80% Sangiovese blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, which has been legal to grow in the appellation since Medici times. It has lovely red and purple fruity aromas and a medium bodied bright mouth feel. Yeah. Spaghetti red.
2013 Touraine Rouge, Domaine des Corbillières $15.99, $12.79 Reorder
Loire Valley wine lovers have a soft spot for the herbal, stemmy character of the native Cabernet Franc, and we have a soft spot for the wines from Domaine des Corbillières. Here they blend in a little Pinot Noir and Malbec for aromatic complexity and backbone, and the resulting juice is rustic and medium in body. It’s a solid red partner for roast chicken.
March 27, 2016. It’s that time of year again! The folks in Bordeaux are bracing themselves for the upcoming onslaught of wine professionals who will be attending the En Primeur tastings which officially commence on Monday, April 4. Several well known wine people are already there tasting the wines, and I will follow suit next week. As always, my schedule is pretty full of appointments and chateau visits during the crazy week, but for the days before and afterwards, the pace is a bit more laid back. One day next week, I’m going to (hopefully – if it’s not raining) walk down to Gare Saint-Jean, cross under the tracks, hear the SNCF jingle, pick up a rental car, and drive out to Sainte Foy la Grande. 10 minutes north of Sainte Foy is where Daniel Hecquet tends to his vines at Château Puy-Servain. 10 minutes south? Bénédicte and Christophe Piat and their Château Couronneau.
We’re well into our second decade of importing the Piats’ wines, and since Christophe’s commitment to, first organic farming, and now Demeter certified Biodynamism, we’ve noticed an annual uptick in the quality of their wines. Currently in stock is the 2012 Couronneau Cuvée Pierre de Cartier. You may remember the 2010 version of this wine which earned the nickname, “The Monster.” If the 2010 was “The Monster,” the 2012 must be “The Starlet.” It is all elegance and grace. Again, the Cuvée Pierre de Cartier is 100% Merlot sourced from Couronneau’s oldest vines which grow in clay upon limestone soils. The wine is deftly aged in oak barrel, some of it new, though isn’t “lost in the woods” when tasting it. The aromas are seductive with dark red and plump purple fruit, hints of clove, violets, and earth. Bracing myself for the attack of the monster from memory, I was calmed by the adult-like, expressive, and seamless palate. The finish is spot-on classy, leaving me with the conclusion that this wine is in a very good place right now, and I have the feeling it will drink very well for a decade or more. It’s elegant enough to broaden one’s pairing ideas away from the typical rack of lamb or rib-eye steak (though those are still applicable) to simpler fare such as a duck breast or simple pasta with red sauce. Having just tasted it minutes ago, I am thinking that it would be a great by-the-glass wine at my local brasserie.
Well, it looks like rainy days will welcome me to Bordeaux this year. I just hope that I can get from the bus to the hotel without getting completely soaked. The 2015 vintage for red Bordeaux is getting some very favorable press, as many are citing the “perfect conditions” of the growing season. I will begin my stay with several negociant visits tasting already bottled wines that are available in the Bordeaux marketplace. I will start tasting 2015 barrel samples next Sunday, and it will be mostly 2015s over the following 5 days. The rain is expected to clear up by next Friday, which should make my drive to Couronneau a pleasant one. I will make a point of telling Bénédicte and Christophe how much I enjoyed their 2012 Cuvée Pierre de Cartier! – Peter Zavialoff
If there are any particular samples that any of you may be interested in hearing about, please drop me a note and I will do my best to taste them and send along my impressions: peter@wineSF.com