2012 Chateau Puy-Servain Montravel Rouge Vieilles Vignes

Time flies. That’s what it does. I’m not going to get philosophical about that, though I struggle getting my head around the fact that it is October. I was reminded of this first thing this morning as I awoke with the morning sun beaming down on my pillow. This biannual occurrence lasts for around a week each time, and it is a reminder that the next time the sun plays its wake up game with me it will be time to head to Bordeaux for Primeurs! And though the barrel tastings are the primary focus of my annual visit, there is so, so much more. I typically hang out in the city for the first few days, but once the weekend hits, I take a stroll under the tracks at Gare Saint Jean and pick up a rental car. This year, I picked up the car and drove for 90 minutes out near Saint Foy la Grande and headed north. Up in the rolling hills north of Saint Foy is the appellation of Montravel. That’s where you find Château Puy-Servain and its owner/ambassador, Daniel Hecquet.

Daniel is not new to us. We are well into our second decade of stocking the wines from Puy-Servain. We first carried his wines via our association with importer Robert Kacher, but their mutual relationship ended around 10 years ago. That was when Daniel paid us a visit. He knows we love his wines and he likes that. His English skills are more than adequate and he informed us that we could continue our relationship by importing his wines directly. To hear Hecquet speak about his wines is extraordinary. Talk about passion! After you taste the wines, you can’t help falling for them. So we agreed to move forward and import them. I visited him and tasted through the line the following spring, but we hit a snag with our follow-through. Nothing was done and time passed, and I was a little apprehensive about scheduling a visit with him the next time I was in Bordeaux thinking that he would not be so receptive to the idea. I was wrong. He was as cheerful and charming as always and invited me to his home to have a meal and meet his wife, Catherine. All went well, the conversation was upbeat and informative and their hospitality was greatly appreciated. After I returned, there were no snags, the wines arrived in the fall, and I continue to visit Daniel and Catherine each spring when I’m nearby.

I made great time this year and got to Puy-Servain a little early, as Daniel was not yet there. I don’t mind, I’ve got patience. I did owe him, as I was around an hour late the very first time I visited. The views from his hilltop winery are beautiful. When he arrived he was apologetic and I reminded him of the time that I was an hour late, so we let that all go with a good laugh. (I would be happy to share the story behind why I was so late, but not in print.) I tasted through his line-up as he makes around a dozen different wines, all very well priced for their levels of quality. His signature bottling is his Montravel Rouge Vieilles Vignes, and I’ve got to say, the newly arrived 2012 version is spot-on delicious! I have always felt that 2012 was an underrated vintage in Bordeaux, and Montravel is Bordeaux’s neighbor. And as the bottled 2012’s arrive and are tasted, this sentiment is spreading. Made from 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc (that’s what the label says, Daniel told me it was 90/10), it’s got that brambly Merlot fruit in the aromas and on the palate with elegant expression. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t knock you on the head or overwhelm you in the fruit department. It spends a year in large casks, of which 30% are new, so you get a little bit of spice and texture from the wood. There is an earthy note that complements the brambly fruit and the faintest hint of gamey leather. All in all, it’s the real deal. Here’s the best part: It tastes like fine, Right Bank Bordeaux. But it’s not Bordeaux. That’s why it’s less than $20 per bottle.

So many people, friends and family included, rib me about traveling to Bordeaux each spring. “It must be nice,” or “Someone’s got to do it,” are common statements, but it’s a work trip. Driving alone for 90 minutes gives me no pleasure whatsoever, even if it’s through the French countryside. What does give me pleasure is when I see a pallet of wine arrive in our warehouse, knowing that wine is both delicious and a great value. How do I know? Because I tasted it. You can count on the fact that I will be looking to uncover more wines just like this one right around the next time the sun wakes me up with it’s blinding rays.Peter Zavialoff

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Domaine Saint-Rémy 2014 Rose d’Alsace

If our point of sale system is to be believed, then The Wine House has been stocking wines from the Ehrhart family since 2005. In the ten years that have followed, the winery has gone through some important changes. No longer are their exported wines labelled Domaine Ehrhart. Instead their historic name, Domaine Saint-Rémy, which is how they’ve always been known as in France and which dates back to 1725, is printed on the labels. Completed in 2013, a new winery and cellar was built to ensure quality winemaking. But the most important change, in my opinion, is that the winery is now certified organic and biodynamic. The conversion to biodynamic farming reflects the Ehrhart’s long-standing determination and dedication to preserving the tradition of wine making in Alsace. The Ehrhart’s take their stewardship of the land and vineyards seriously.

The 2014 Rose d’Alsace from Domaine Saint-Rémy is new to me and to the store. This is the first vintage we’ve had the opportunity to carry. An un-tinted, slender bottle allows the attractive orange-tinged pink color to show through – the bottle had me at hello! As much of a fan of Rhône varietal rosés that I am, I also deeply enjoy rosés made from Pinot Noir. There is a sophistication and elegance to rosé of Pinot Noir that is undeniable. Domaine Saint-Rémy’s 2014 Rose d’Alsace is pleasantly aromatic – wild strawberries, ripe Charentais melon, and spun sugar. The flavors are vivid but not overly fruity. I predict I will be turning to this wine time and again, especially as Autumn clings to Summer’s heat.

On the first full day of Fall with outside temperatures above 90 degrees, I prepared one of my family’s favorite warm weather dishes, Salade Niçoise. A morning trip to the farmer’s market guaranteed flavorful produce and other than whisking together a spiky vinaigrette and a whole lot of chopping, dinner was done! With a plate piled high with crunchy veg, imported Tonno, and briny olives, a glass of chilled rosé was a must. Luckily I planned ahead and stuck a bottle of 2014 Rose d’Alsace in the fridge before heading out in the morning. It was an ideal pairing.

My newlywed nephew was ordained a Russian Orthodox priest last Sunday. Some say it is a calling, but I call it courageous. In these times, in this culture, to dedicate one’s life to serve others without the hope of financial gain is an audacious decision to make. My admiration for this exceptional young man is unbounded, as is my love. Emotions continue to ride high as this weekend marks 17 years of wedded bliss! I can recollect my wedding day like it was yesterday. Though my father told me I didn’t have to go through with it as he drove me to the church, I know now that marrying my husband was the best decision ever.
Tony – ты мой мужчина!Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Alsace, Anya Balistreri, Pinot Noir, Rose

NV Pascal Doquet Horizon Champagne

September 20, 2015; the last Sunday of summer. Time flies, that’s for sure. But unlike the stock market, traffic on the bridge, or the fortune of your favorite team, the fact that time moves on is predictable with 100% accuracy. Keeping that in mind, without getting too far ahead of myself, this means October, November, and December are coming next. What might be a good idea to stock up on for these 3 upcoming months? Something that was recently poured for me comes to mind: The NV Pascal Doquet Horizon Champagne might come in handy as we ride out Q4 of 2015.

Seeing how we’re like a family here at TWH, it has become a tradition to celebrate birthdays around here with bubbles. Our most recent family birthday happened to be mine and toward the end of the day, after looking for something in the back, I was greeted by Anya and David holding Champagne flutes. No bottle, just glasses. Chris joined the party and we clinked them (it was Tom’s day off, otherwise he’d have been there too, sorry Tom). I took a very small ceremonial sip and took a step back to admire the nose. It had layers of complexity that were enjoyable yet perplexing; seeing that it was my birthday, I had to guess the wine. This isn’t as difficult as one would think as a dollop of educated guesswork helps a great deal. The fruit component was fairly well pronounced. There were lemons, snappy green apples, a little of the classic Champagne brioche-like sensation, as well as dusty mineral. The palate was bright, fresh, and seamlessly balanced. Adding all of this up I began to think about special Champagne; expensive Champagne. But we don’t open fancy Champagne for birthdays. Imagine the worst hitter swinging a baseball bat trying to hit a housefly. That’s how effective my guesswork was in this case. Anya went to get the bottle for refills, but David stopped her. At one point I verbally ruled OUT the producer. David said to Anya, “He hasn’t guessed yet. He’s getting colder and colder, and the one conclusion he’s come to is that it’s not what it is!” Sometimes my coworkers have fun at my expense.

The kidding subsided and Anya brought the bottle back to top everyone off. I was a bit surprised as I hadn’t tasted Doquet’s latest release of his Horizon. I don’t usually think of that kind of fruit expression or the yeasty, brioche-like characteristics when I taste one of Pascal’s wines. This was truly a revelation, and it was unanimous, the four of us quaffed our fizz with praise and smiles, nary a critical thought or word. It was a great way to end the work day. There would be more wine to taste that evening including a Sauternes, or in this case Barsac (I think you may know which chateau) which could be my favorite birthday tradition of them all.

Alas, time flies and birthdays end; even for those of us ludicrous enough to drag the celebration out for 21 days! I am grateful for all that was shared with me during the annual ‘fest. As stated above, here come October, November, and December … in that order. Off the top of my head I can think of 7 occasions to open a bottle of Champagne between now and 2016. I guess I’ll just buy a case and make up reasons for the other 5 bottles!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments: peter@wineSF.com

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2012 Scherrer Sonoma County Grenache

Scherrer Winery’s
2012 Grenache
I have a confession to make: I do not visit local wineries as much as I should. What’s even worse is that I do not visit as much as I would like to either! Never mind the reasons why I don’t get out to Wine County often enough; it’s simply the reality. What’s even worse is that when I vacation at my family’s dacha along the Russian River, which I do as often as possible, I am only minutes away from hundreds of wineries! As luck would have it, my staycation up at the River this July coincided with Scherrer Winery’s Open House. Normally open by appointment only, Scherrer’s Open House is for mailing list customers to come try new releases and taste wine out of barrel. I’ve been a mailing list customer ever since the winery began in the early ’90s and as a wine buyer now, I am always eager to expound my admiration and preference for Scherrer wines.

The winery itself is a humble structure (an old apple-packing building) and is down a now-paved driveway that always makes me second-guess myself whether I turned down the right way. I love this place! Here there are no meticulously maintained gardens, gift shops, or pool cabanas. It’s a place where they make wine. Inside it’s dark and cellar-cool. The Open House is a family affair, with Fred and his father Ed pouring wines, and Fred’s wife, Judy, helping customers with their wine purchases. Even Fred’s daughter, home for the summer from college, was helping out pouring wine and reciting her father’s morsels of wine wisdom. And of course, you can’t forget about the dogs. Lots of them. All corralled in a pen near some barrels stacked up high.

I arrived at the winery with husband and daughter in tow, so I planned on making a quick pass through the wines. Fortunately, my daughter was preoccupied with the dogs and the tasty appetizers that were served. I had gotten through the first couple wines when I noticed a TWH customer. It was like running into an old friend! We ended up staying, tasting, chatting for a long time. I was enjoying being a customer and soaking up the atmosphere as more Scherrer fans came through the winery to taste. I didn’t bother grilling Fred with lots of questions this time. Instead I was more like a fly on the wall and just listened to what was going on around me. If you are ever interested in learning even more about wine (and have some time), check out the series Ask a Winemaker that frequently features Fred Scherrer. His thoughtful and clear explanations on wine topics are invaluable.

I wanted to properly thank Fred before I left the winery, and as I tried to catch his attention before heading out the door, Fred waved me over and asked if I had time to taste one more thing. What a question! How could I say no? Why would I say no? Fred pulled out a bottle of 2012 Grenache Sonoma County from behind a barrel. He explained that it was a wine he felt could work well in our store, given our customers’ palate preferences (and mine). It’s a wine that is almost exclusively on restaurant wine lists, as the tannins are smooth and the fruit prevalent without being over-the-top; in other words, a classic-styled Scherrer wine.

The 2012 Grenache has a Sonoma County appellation, but it is essentially a single-vineyard wine from Kick Ranch, which is situated along the eastern edge of Rincon Valley. Fred and Ed have been having a lengthy, on-going dialogue about what to do with a part of their Scherrer Vineyard in Alexander Valley that has laid fallow for some time. They settled on the idea of planting Grenache. Typical of Fred’s curious and methodic nature, he wanted to first work with the varietal before making any decisions in the vineyard. The 2012 Grenache is an impressive effort. I loved the voluminous texture and the soft-edged tannins. The finish gave off this milk-chocolatey nuance that reminded me of the finer Vacqueyras I’ve tasted. The 2012 Grenache captures the liveliness of true Southern Rhone wines but with the juicy fruit expression of California.

In his newsletter, Fred writes that “we have done extensive research at the dinner table pairing this wine with many different foods from tomato-based sauces and pasta, simple grilled pork to braised beef and antelope and find that it is extremely versatile. It also handles a diverse set of food spices and sings with rosemary in particular [no great surprise there].” I am eager to test out his findings at home. I particularly like the rosemary angle…perhaps a grilled leg of lamb basted with rosemary dipped in olive oil or jus? That could be epic! – Anya Balistreri


Filed under Anya Balistreri, Grenache, Sonoma County

Back By Popular Demand! 2009 Chateau La Croix Calendreau, Saint-Emilion

To say that the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux was a successful one would be a big understatement. We don’t have the statistics handy, but I’m pretty sure that we sent more emails out about 2009 Bordeaux than any other vintage. Such was the quality of the vintage; from the First Growths down to the Bordeaux Supérieurs, the weather benefitted everyone. I will always remember my first appointment in March 2010, when I asked a negociant how the barrel samples were showing and he replied, “You will find them hard to spit!” Charming as infants, charming after bottling, and now that they’re putting on weight at the young age of 5 years old, charming still. We bought a whole lot of wine from the 2009 vintage; in some instances, the same wine several times. Hey, if it’s that good, and that popular, why not reload? Our recent container brought forth one of those wines, the 2009 La Croix Calendreau, Saint Émilion.

The first drop of La Croix Calendreau landed here at TWH in June of 2013. It was gone by August. Funny thing was, we didn’t list it in our newsletter, nor did we mention it in an email. It sold out because we were all taken by it, and chances are, if you came in during that time and were looking for a medium/full bodied red wine with charm, structure, and balance, you walked out with a bottle or two. Many of you came back and bought more, then boom! It sold out. Round two was no different. This time, at least we had a chance to get in front of it and send out an email announcing its re-arrival. This, of course, didn’t help in keeping it in-stock, and it was gone in less than 3 months.

We love new containers! Who knows how long it will last this time around, but the 2009 La Croix Calendreau, Saint Émilion is back in the house! It sold out at $25 per bottle. Due to a favorable currency situation, we can offer this final batch at $22.98 per bottle.
Ready, set, go!Peter Zavialoff

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The September 2015 Dirty Dozen

September? Have no fear, summer is not over. Not yet. It will be later this month, but let’s not let that put a damper on our spirits. There’s plenty to look forward to as fall approaches. Pigskin lovers are happy, the leaves will be changing, baseball will be turning into its serious phase, and the nights are getting longer. To accompany these changes, how about 12 wines, all different, for one low price? The September 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 Ventoux Rosé l’Instant, Domaine de Fondrèche $16.29, $13.03 reorder
In the eastern section of the southern Rhône Valley, Sébastien Vincenti makes some fine wine in the Ventoux appellation. His Rosé l’Instant is another great example of a southern French Rosé made in the Provençal style. It’s sleek and crisp with hints of citrus and dried flowers. It’s a great food wine and will pair best with a seared ahi tuna salad Niçoise.

2013 Hors Saison, Domaine La Hitaire $13.99, $11.19 reorder
From the Côtes de Gascogne in southwest France comes this snappy little sipper inspired by the white blends from Bordeaux. 85% Sauvignon Blanc and a little Sémillon combine for a bright, fresh, citrus-like aromatic profile. The palate is light and the finish clean. A versatile table white, salads work well, especially those with goat cheese.

2012 Unoaked Chardonnay, The Winery of Good Hope $13.49, $10.79 reorder
Englishman Alex Dale grew up with wine, and in the 1990’s he invested in vineyards near Capetown, South Africa, and founded The Winery of Good Hope. No fancy label, no marketing, it’s all about the wine. 100% unoaked Chardonnay is what you get, no tricks, no makeup. The screwcap enclosure makes it great with picnics and chicken salad sandwiches.

2014 Entre-Deux-Mers, Tertre de Launay $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
The Greffier family has been making wine for over 6 generations and exporting Chateau Tertre de Launay to the US for nearly 40 years. We think they’ve got this thing down. A classic Bordelaise blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle goes into this intense, yet classy wine. Apart from shellfish, try it with grilled lemony-chicken.

2014 Xarel-lo, Bohigas $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder
Bohigas, a family-run winery an hour north of Barcelona, can trace their history back to the 13th century. Today, father and daughter make a dry white from Xarel-lo, best known for being one of three grapes used for Cava. Zippy flavors of pineapple and white fruit are supported by a solid acid backbone. Try with salty snacks and tapas.

NV Gála Sec, Törley $11.98, $10.78 reorder
At the end of the 18th century, after working at Roederer and Delbeck in Reims, József Törley returned home to Hungary to make sparkling wine. His image is on the neck of every Törley bottle. The Gála Sec is indeed dry and made up of three varietals, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and Királyleányka. A Prosecco look-alike; it’s yummy with fried chicken.

2013 Poggio d’Elsa, Bruni $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder
A 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, this hearty red from the wine region of Maremma, along Tuscany’s coastal flank, offers up ripe flavors of Morello cherries and black plums wrapped up in a smooth tannin finish. Beef brochettes topped with a pungent salsa verde would do nicely here, especially served outside on the terrazza.

2011 Minervois Cuvée Spéciale, Chateau de Paraza $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
After a period of neglect, the Danglas family has brought this historical estate back to its former glory. Along with renovation of the château, emphasis has been on elevating wine quality. The Cuvée Spéciale is a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache, and the rest Mourvèdre. Spicy, juicy, round and delicious! Try with flavors inspired by the Middle East.

2013 Santofimia, Niel $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder
Black as night in the glass, this Garnacha Tintorera, aka Alicante Bouchet, is a bold, zesty Spanish red wine. The vines are 30 years of age on average and are grown at high altitudes in nutrient-poor soils. Blackberry liqueur and juicy cassis fruit flavors are backed up with formidable acidity. It’s a tooth-stainer! Try with bleu cheese topped grilled steak.

2013 Merlot, Domaine Saint Antoine $11.49, $9.19 reorder
We’ve been carrying the wines from Domaine Saint Antoine for well over a decade, one of the main reasons is for the price, they’re quite a deal! This Merlot is not to be taken lightly. It speaks of ripe cassis and cherries, tobacco and lavender. Tee up a rotisserie chicken, baked potatoes with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, and asparagus. Yum.

2012 Syrah/Grenache, Grange des Rouquette $11.99, $9.59 reorder
You may have heard us extoll the virtues of Thierry Boudinaud and the panoply of wines he produces from in and around the southern Rhône. This Syrah/Grenache blend is all business; all tank-fermented, so it’s pure and fresh. What you get are aromas of red and purple berries, a medium-bodied palate and a bright finish. A great all-purpose table red.

2011 Costières de Nîmes Cuvée Trassegum, Château d’Or et de Gueules $22.99, $18.39 reorder
Cuvée Trassegum. In the local Occitan dialect it means “love potion,” and we are smitten. This is serious stuff here. Wine wizard Diane Puymorin blends 20% each Carignan and Mourvèdre (both from 80 year old vines) with Syrah and the result is spectacular. Get the fancy stemware out, grill up a nice grass-fed ribeye and share it with someone special!

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

2014 Chateau Armurey Bordeaux Clairet – Rare And Delicious!

Visiting Bordeaux each spring to attend the En Primeur tastings is always an interesting experience. Full of challenges and deadlines, but also rife with learning opportunities and plain old dumb luck, I try to approach the week as open and accepting as possible. It is not a time for stress or mood swings. You never know what is going to happen. Not being much of a planner, Primeurs is the one week that I keep a list of appointments, from 9am until 6pm, every day, and I cram a lot of tastings and appointments into those time slots! Monday was spent in the Médoc with appointments at 11 châteaux, including 2 First Growths, 5 Seconds, 2 Thirds, and 2 Fifths. Tuesday was again spent in the Médoc, only 3 appointments, but all 5 UGC tastings were there. Wednesday morning began with the UGC Pessac-Léognan tasting at Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte. Between the reds and whites, that was 31 wines, so it was rather amusing as to why I busted my tail after this tasting to drive to Pomerol for a noon appointment to taste one wine. What was the wine? Believe it or not, it was the 2014 Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet.

You may have heard the story before, a few years ago, former TWH staffer Emily asked me if I had ever tasted Bordeaux Clairet. The answer was no, but more than that, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Once again, Bordeaux Clairet is a light red wine, made in the style reminiscent of the wines shipped to England in the middle ages. It’s made like a Rosé, yet sits with its skins for a longer period of time, hence the red wine aromas and palate. We just love it! With a little chill on it, it’s fresh, it’s fruity, it’s light, but definitely more substantial than a Rosé. Around the table, it’s incredibly versatile too; you can pair it with almost anything. The best part: its price. $10 by the bottle or $8.50 by the case, it’s no wonder my fall invoice usually has a bottle or seven on it. Here is our post about the 2012 version. Also, you can read our write-up on the 2013 here.

Unlike the past two vintages, the supplier did not air-freight out any samples of the 2014 for our staff to taste, and we weren’t about to buy something we hadn’t tasted, so I made arrangements to do so while in Bordeaux. It must be amusing from the négociant’s perspective as well, as she interrupted her hectic Primeurs schedule to grab a sample of inexpensive Clairet, chill it, and meet with me so I could taste it. We went to lunch afterwards, where we did discuss more serious matters with some serious wine from a Pomerol estate called Château Bonalgue (You will be hearing a bit about Bonalgue in the near future). After lunch, I was off to four appointments at various celebrated Pomerol châteaux, then two more just across the border in Saint Émilion. When I look back on the day as a whole, it cracks me up to think about leaving Smith-Haut-Lafitte and high-tailing it across the two rivers to make my noon appointment to taste the Bordeaux Clairet. I was confident that it would be to my liking, but I needed first hand knowledge before we went ahead and bought a bunch. It exceeded expectations.

It’s container season here at TWH! The 2014 Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet recently arrived on the first of three containers due in the next several weeks! Both Anya and I took bottles home last weekend, and it looks like we’ll be doing it again after we close today! First thing this morning, Tom asked Anya if she had tried the Clairet. “I love it! It’s great, so easy to drink, so plump, so juicy. I like this year’s version better than last year as it’s fresher and less herbal.” Who need boring tasting notes when you have Anya’s enthusiasm? – Peter Zavialoff

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