Two weeks ago, the dust had just settled after one of Jeanne-Marie De Champs’ bi-annual visits to TWH. As I wrote at that time, the protocol had changed … over 20 bottles of Burgundy were opened, and when the dregs of these sample bottles made their way back to us, we were able to taste through a wide spectrum of quality Burgundy much like a La Paulée tasting. The result is that the experience is fresh in our collective minds, so if you have any questions about any of our new Burgundy wines, we all have some recent experience with them. Which gets me around to my topic of the week: crab season.
On my day off this past week, I wandered in to one of my favorite lunch spots only to bump into a former colleague from my days in the finance biz. I hadn’t seen him in a decade, so we began to catch up on things a bit. It was the usual small talk. He’s been living in New York for the past 8 years and he was visiting because his daughter is going to school out this way. Since he wasn’t in California last fall, he didn’t know about demoic acid and our lack of a crab season. So I was surprised to hear any optimism associated with the question, “How long until crab season?” Really? My eyes got big. A mutual friend who was seated between us matter-of-factly nodded his head and said, “I’m hearing situation back to normal, the season should start in mid-November.” Understanding his not being an authority on the subject, I made a mental note to get some verification. I asked Anya and Christian about it earlier this morning, and they seemed to echo his sentiments. Then, in walked one of our favorite customers whom we know is a crab enthusiast. “If anyone knows the answer, HE certainly does,” I thought to myself. So I asked him. He answered. Crab season here in northern California will begin November 5, with the commercial season beginning two weeks later. Really? Yes.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where I’m going here. I can make a case for pairing a lot of different white wines with crab. The things to look for are expression, balance, complexity, and acidity. If your white wine has these components, your crab experience will be enhanced. With all of the recent Burgundy tasting with Jeanne-Marie and my colleagues, I remember one particular facet which occurred after everyone went home for the day and Chris and I were left with some 12-15 open bottles of Burgundy. They were all close to being empty, but there was still enough in each of them to be able to get a decent sized taste. With Jeanne-Marie and the others gone, and punk rock radio blasting in our warehouse, we took a less studious approach to our tasting. I’m a firm believer in the concept that discovery often occurs when not searching. I wasn’t looking for it, but there it was. Delicious white Burgundy from an unassuming appellation; relatively inexpensive, but what sent me over the top was that I prefered it to the next wine I tasted, which was a Meursault. The Meursault was fine, don’t get me wrong, but the previous wine at half the price was the better wine; to me anyway. What was it? The 2014 Rully La Folie from Claudie Jobard.
Decanter Magazine’s Stephen Brook’s note from January 2016: “Firm nutty nose, toasty and assertive. Rich, full-bodied, and concentrated, with spiciness and fine acidity, a gutsy Rully, with swagger, pungent and long.”
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about crab season, Burgundy, Bordeaux, or The Special One’s return to Stamford Bridge tomorrow: peter@wineSF.com
What can we say? One of the points that we don’t go over enough is how exactly we narrow down our selections. When he’s overseas tasting Burgundy, David is presented with plenty of samples that he likes, but doesn’t necessarily buy them all. There are plenty of factors to consider, but when a great majority of said factors line up, vintage after vintage, he goes for it.
The wines from Claudie Jobard have a bit of an unfair advantage, or perhaps have reason to be held with greater scrutiny. Her mother, Laurence, was head enologist at Domaine Drouhin for 30 years! Her Pop, Roger, is a well known pépiniériste whose nursery has been influential in Burgundy for decades. It is on the land from her father’s side of the family that Claudie has her Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines, in the appellation of Rully. Rully sits in the northern sector of Côte Chalonnaise just south of the celebrated Côte d’Or. Decanter magazine reported in 2013 that some of Burgundy’s famous names are, and have been investing in vineyard land in Côte Chalonnaise in recent years, and even featured Claudie’s profile in their article.
After having tasted a few vintages of Claudie’s wines, David went for it and we began importing her wines with the 2011 vintage. Her 2011 Rully Blanc Montagne la Folie was a huge hit with our customers (and staff), making our Top Ten Wines of 2013. The Rully Rouge La Chaume wowed all that treaded there, charming those who take joy in expressive, balanced Pinot Noir in the sub $30 camp. David’s explanation is that the wines are stylistic. Claudie’s wines are impeccably balanced, with no hard edges, no over ripeness, with elegant expression.
Though we were fairly certain it would be the case going in, her 2012s are fantastic. A difficult vintage for all, with the weather difficulties, it seems the surviving fruit from Burgundy 2012 is among the tops in quality this century. One can sense that upon their first whiff and sip of Claudie’s 2012 Rully Blanc Montagne la Folie: Fresh, bright Chardonnay aromas, medium bodied palate with excellent expression and balance. You can see what David means by calling her wines stylistic immediately. The average age of these Chardonnay vines is 42 years, so the limestone presence is felt both in the aromas and on the palate. Her 2012 Rully Rouge La Chaume is a stunner with its fragrant bouquet of red berries, forest floor, and a hint of spice. Another elegantly harmonious red Burgundy for a very fair price! These wines can be approached now, and will drink well into the next decade.
Don’t forget, they mix and match for a 15% case discount!!
|Where does the time go? It doesn’t seem like it’s been 4 years since we listed our first Top Ten Wines of the Year in January 2010, but it has! 2014 promises to be a great year of discovery, as we have plans to receive more wine from producers new to us. Let us not forget our stalwarts, we’ll have plenty from them as well. We’re expecting visits from some of our friends overseas, keep on the look-out for information about winemaker dinners and events coming soon. All in all, 2014 is shaping up to look like a very exciting year!Before we blaze further into the new year, let’s relive our Top Ten Wines of 2013.
Again, we taste a lot of wine here at TWH throughout the year, and we enjoy the exercise of reminiscing our tasting experiences. Our first Top Ten listing was for the year 2009. We have continued the tradition, and you can view our Top Ten lists from 2010, 2011, or 2012 by clicking on each year. It’s not an easy exercise, as we taste so much throughout the year, and it’s hard to narrow it down to just ten. But somehow we manage. Here at TWH, for our Top Ten Wines of the year, it’s not about highest scoring, most well-known, big names, nor big prices. It’s about quality, it’s about diversity, it’s about value, it’s about wines that we all love! Some of the wines are sold out, but have earned a place on our list due to their merits. Here it is folks, TWH SF’s Top Ten Wines of 2013:
|2012 Chateau Armurey Bordeaux Clairet
This one was two years in the making! Back in 2011, our former teammate Emily asked if I had ever tasted Bordeaux Clairet. Not only hadn’t I tasted it, I had no idea it existed! A little research revealed that Bordeaux Clairet is a light red wine, almost like a heavy Rosé that is rarely seen outside Bordeaux. The wine is made in the style of the Bordeaux wines shipped to England during the middle ages. Rumor has it that it was Bordeaux Clairet that inspired the contemporary English term, Claret. Having been on our radar since 2011, we were excited to see it listed on a negoce’s price list in December 2012. We had a sample shipped. We tasted it. We loved it. Now the tricky part; how much should we order? Well, we slightly missed the mark on that one. It sold out way too fast! Not only was it a huge hit for our customers, members of our staff snapped it up a case at a time. What’s not to like? 12.5% alcohol, fresh, crisp, refreshing light red wine (served chilled) for less than $10? I’m responsible for the depletion of over 2 cases. We’ll be tasting the 2013 soon. If it’s anything like the 2012, we can all look forward to cooling our palates this summer with more Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet!
|2011 Claudie Jobard Rully ‘Montagne La Folie’
White Burgundy. Sounds magical, doesn’t it? We love white Burgundy, and when we find one of high quality in the sub $30 range, we get very excited. We welcomed Claudie Jobard to TWH family in 2013 via two bottlings of Pommard that she makes for her aunt and her mother at Domaine Gabriel Billard. Her mother being Laurence Jobard, head oenologist at Domaine Drouhin for over 30 years. Taking a step back, Laurence has tasked her daughter to make the wine for the domaine. If Claudie is good enough to make wine for her celebrated mother, she’s certainly good enough for us! Claudie also bottles red and white Burgundy from vineyards she’s been handed down from her father’s side of the family in Rully. As far as price to quality goes, the wines are in the sweet spot. When Anya wrote the wine up last May, she observed that Claudie’s 2011 Rully Montagne La Folie was what many California Chardonnay producers are shooting for, but “miss the mark.” With the case price, it’s actually less than $25 per bottle! However you see it, it’s terrific white Burgundy, deserving its spot in our Top Ten. Welcome to TWH family, Claudie!
|2009 Grange des Rouquette Syrah ‘Agrippa’
Now for one from a couple of our longtime friends, Thierry and Véronique Boudinaud. We’ve been representing Thierry and Véronique for many years, first as their California distributor, and now as their importer. They make a range of wines, but they’re mainly good quality, inexpensive country French wines. Wines that you would expect to be poured at any of the bistros, cafés, and brasseries that dot the southern French landscape. A year ago, on a visit to their property, David was poured a barrel sample of something Thierry called Agrippa. The wine is, in essence, a reserve wine. Thierry doesn’t make it every year, and when he does, he only makes 10-15 barrels. Well, David was impressed! If you love northern Rhône Syrah, you owe it to yourself to give the Agrippa a try. This 100% Syrah comes from a 3 hectare parcel of 20+ year old vines planted in sandy loess soils, similar to those in the north.
I had a surprise, aha moment with this wine one night. As the day grew to a close, I grabbed a couple of random bottles and put them in my wine bag. Once in the wine bag, you can’t see their labels, but I had thought that the bottle of red wine that I grabbed was a 2010 Boudinaud Syrah/Grenache. I put my groceries away, and grabbed a couple of pots, ready to get dinner started. With my concentration entirely on what I was preparing, I grabbed my corkscrew and opened the bottle of red. I poured a glass, went back to the stove to stir some onions and garlic, and then I took a sip. Whoa! That’s not inexpensive French country wine, that was something entirely different. A closer look at the bottle revealed that it was indeed the Agrippa, and my love affair with this wine began. But ask any of us, the 2009 Boudinaud Agrippa Syrah is a special wine. If you factor in the $16.14 case price, it is pretty much unbeatable.
|2011 Palmina Dolcetto
There has been such a buzz lately amongst wine industry people in regard to winemaker Steve Clifton and the wines from Palmina! A recent trip to SF restauranteur Bruce Hill’s revamped Fog City revealed that Palmina is well represented on Gregory Altzman’s list; both by the glass and by the bottle. Well, Anya was on to the concept quite a while ago, as the wines are indeed made for those interested in Italian varietals from California rather than the “Cal-Ital” crowd. The 2011 Dolcetto is sublime, it has Old World character, with just enough fruit to balance out its rich complexity. Medium in body, it’s the kind of wine that pairs well with all of the dishes you would imagine. From a simple Pizza Margherita to a more serious Osso Buco. We’re so pleased with the full line of wines that we received this year from Palmina, but the Dolcetto, that’s something very special indeed!
Warning: Less than a case of the 2011 is left. We will soon be moving on to the 2012. Stay tuned for that.
|2010 Domaine Pernot-Belicard Meursault
Another of David’s solid recent discoveries was not entirely a “new” discovery. How do you classify that exactly? He’s (fairly) new to us, but he’s the grandson of one of our stalwarts. We’re talking about Philippe Pernot, who in addition to helping his grandfather (and father) at Domaine Paul Pernot et ses fils, makes his own wine sourced from vineyards acquired from his wife’s family. The young Pernot has 5 hectares of vines in 9 different climats, but get this, his Meursault comes from a single parcel and the vines are 65-70 years old! Talk about layered and complex! We were all wowed by this wine when it first arrived, and continue to be. If you love Meursault, and who doesn’t, we recommend you taste the 2010 Pernot-Belicard Meursault.
|Just in!!! Philippe’s 2011! Build a vertical.
|2011 Domaine Pichat Cote Rotie ‘Loss’
During a recent conversation with another importer, we came to the conclusion that discovering new producers who make high-quality, value wine was nearly impossible. Especially when it comes to famous wine regions whose production is severely limited. It’s a theory, yes, with a boatload of truth and logic to back it up. David has been working diligently with his friends and various agents looking specifically for a “new” Côte Rôtie producer for several years now. That means he’s tried a bunch of them over the years, but in each case, graciously said no. Well, that has changed now. He’s liked what he’s tasted from Domaine Pichat for several vintages, and that’s what it takes for him to graciously say yes! When the Pichat wines landed we all got to taste them, and they are indeed special wines with that signature smoky, meaty goodness that Syrah exhibits when originating from the steep terraces of Côte Rôtie. It was unanimous amongst us, the fancier cuvées were great, and will be spectacular wines someday, showing immense concentration, texture and structure. When we tasted the Löss, we were blown away by its balance and drinkability. The complexity was dazzling, and we could swear that Stéphane used some new barrel on it as well, but were assured no, only neutral barrel is used for this wine. Proving again that Syrah is “a ballerina who can kick-box”, Pichat’s 2011 Löss delivers plush, dark plum and red berry flavors framed in a classic smoky, meaty structure. Another great discovery; this time from an almost impossible source!
|2011 Domaine Sebastien Dampt Chablis 1er Cru ‘Cote de Lechet’
It was during that same conversation with the other importer where a modicum of possibility did emerge: find someone new or someone young. Sure, that doesn’t guarantee quality, but if you’re going to find the diamond in the rough of unclaimed producers, that’s the place to look. Chablis is much bigger than Côte Rôtie, yes, but finding the new producer wasn’t easy. Patience is a virtue, because after graciously saying no several times, David found us a bona fide all star, Sébastien Dampt! My, my, what a fine line of wines. The youngster’s family has been making wine for over 150 years! Sébastien had been working with his brother, Vincent, together with their father at his eponymous Domaine Daniel Dampt before setting off on his own in 2007. What this young winemaker can do with Chardonnay is astounding! His 2011 Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Léchet wowed us at first whiff! Its fresh, focused white fruit, floral, and mineral aromas were captivating; the palate was as bright and nervy as expected; the finish long and harmonious. The very fair price, a result of patience and direct importation. Bravo!
The 2011 Côte de Léchet has sold out, but its stablemate, the Premier Cru Les Vaillons is another outstanding example of what this young winemaker does with Premier Cru fruit!
|2009 Chateau d’Or et de Gueules ‘La Bolida’
Making her second appearance in a TWH SF Top Ten is our pal in Costières de Nîmes, Diane Puymorin with her 100% old vine Mourvèdre La Bolida. Old vine? Yes, these twisted, weathered vines are between 80 and 100 years old! Crazy, right? This has always been a prized bottling for our staff as many of us squirrel away a few each year, as they deliver much joy after only a short time in the cellar. Her 2009 La Bolida is all that and more! Mourvèdre has the reputation for yielding big, powerful wines that, in many cases, need cellar time. This is true with many of the wines coming from Bandol. It is a very late ripening grape and only flourishes in a handful of locales around the world. One place it flourishes is in Diane’s vineyard! When discussing La Bolida, she often points to the juxtaposition between the wine’s power and its roundness. It definitely has the stuffing to go the long haul, but is short of any hard edges that may interfere with its charm. The southern Rhône has had a string of successful vintages, and 2009 was one of the best.
2010 Opalie de Chateau Coutet
Talk about new discoveries … how about a first time EVER wine? The team at Château Coutet had been working on a secret project for a couple of vintages: to make a top-flight dry white Bordeaux. With the assistance of Philippe Dhalluin and his team at Baron Philippe de Rothschild (Mouton), two particular plots of their Barsac/Sauternes First Growth vineyard were chosen as the source for the new wine. As the wine from the 2010 vintage developed, it was determined that the quality was outstanding and it was time to unveil Opalie de Château Coutet to the world! The Wine House San Francisco were the first merchants in the world to offer the wine on a pre-arrival basis in the summer of 2012. As other merchants in the world began to offer the wine for sale, Decanter Magazine listed us as its exclusive US merchant. It was shipped to us in 2013 and was a huge hit with staff and customers alike. It is a wine of pedigree and refinement, brimming with opulence and richness, yet finishing dry and crisp.
The 2010 sold out long ago, however, we are now offering the 2011 Opalie de Coutet, also on pre-arrival. Warning: we have already sold half of our allocation of the 2011. The wine is due to be shipped to us sometime in the spring of 2014.
|2010 Chateau Fleur Cardinale
In the red Bordeaux department, 2010 was a stellar vintage. It was a great follow-up to 2009, a spectacular vintage in its own right, but 2010 was spectacular for a different reason. Sadly, this of course, meant higher prices, which turned more and more Americans away from the wines from Bordeaux. Aha, but let’s not let those who now bottle commodities rather than wine spoil the party for us wine drinkers! It has been reported here, once or twice that a chateau in St. Emilion was not only cranking out fantastic wine, vintage after vintage, but they were pricing their wines where they could be enjoyed by people who love Bordeaux. Since taking over the property beginning with the 2001 vintage, Dominique and Florence Decoster have turned this St. Emilion property into a champion in the quality to price department. They have been on a great run of consecutive vintage successes, and then came 2010. Arguably, their finest vintage to date, the 2010 Château Fleur Cardinale is representative of the hard work and investment made by the Decosters and their team. Their motive is simple. Dominique once told me that if you are going to make wine and travel the world pouring it, you’re going to have to drink it a lot. So make something good! Bravo, Dominique and Florence!
Sadly, we sold out of the 2010 weeks ago, but we are selling the 2011 Château Fleur Cardinale on pre-arrival for an unbelievable price. This is quality juice, folks, take it from me.
Or, if you would like Robert Parker’s synopsis, “Another top-notch success, the 2011 (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) hit 15% natural alcohol. Yields were a low 30 hectoliters per hectare, and the harvest occurred quite late. The result is a dense purple-colored wine with a stunning bouquet of blackberry jam, graphite, charcoal and blueberries. With superb density and purity as well as a multidimensional mouthfeel, this intense St.-Emilion is a sleeper of the vintage, although consumers are catching on to the exquisite quality emerging from La Fleur Cardinale. The 2011 should drink well for 15+ years. (92-94 points)”
|So there you have it. We’re a month into 2014, and we’re already making more vinous discoveries! Many 2011 Bordeaux (now in bottle) were tasted at the UGC tasting in Los Angeles last week. We’ve got winemakers and property owners from wineries in France and Italy lined up to visit us in the first part of this year, and the samples keep coming! We’ll try to stay in front of the onslaught, forever echoing our sentiments here for you all. Or as Anya says, “We taste a lot of bad wine so you don’t have to!” Happy 2014. – Peter Zavialoff
|We have been promising the arrival of some new whites from France, specifically Burgundy, to go along with David’s other terrific finds, Michel-Andreotti, Pernot-Belicard and J-M Chaland. Our most recent container has brought a bevy of Burgundian beauties beginning with this stunner from producer Claudie Jobard, the 2011 Rully Montagne La Folie. It is rich, verbena- and honey-scented white Burgundy. Rounded and plush with ample body, it has butterscotch and creamy caramel on the finish. It’s showy and delicious.
David likes to follow a producer a bit, tasting through more than one vintage, before committing to import their wine. A good producer will make consistently good wine in most vintages barring some weather-related disaster. This past January, David tasted all he needed to convince himself that importing Claudie Jobard’s wines was not going to be risky, but a sure thing. He was impressed by what he tasted. In terms of heritage, Claudie Jobard was destined to be a winemaker. Both her parents are legends in Burgundy. Her mother, Laurence, was head winemaker for Domaine Drouhin from 1973 to 2005 and her father, Roger, is a pépiniériste whose nursery has been influential in viticultural circles for decades. As the eighth generation in her family to make wine, Claudie started her own domaine label in 2002 using ancestral vineyards from her father’s side. At the northern end of the Cote Chalonnais lies the appellation of Rully which produces both red and white wines. Claudie’s Rully Montagne La Folie is a 2 ½ hectare parcel. Farmed organically, the vines are between 40-45 years old. The soil type is clay-limestone and rather stony with a craggy terrain reminiscent of broken concrete. Fermented in barrel with native yeasts, Claudie put only 15% of her 2011 Rully Montagne La Folie production in new barrel, that is 3 out of the 20 barrels made. So, yes there is a luscious barrel component to this wine, but it is minimal and judicious.
|I experienced a banner day this past Monday wine tasting-wise. It was only the 2nd time in my life that I tasted Musigny VV from Vogue. And it didn’t stop there… There was more great Burgundy, courtesy of a trade-tasting hosted by a local wine wholesaler who was celebrating a milestone in the biz, several A-list California producers and much more. As I told my sales rep, I was grateful to taste all these great wines, but it was heartbreaking to know how many great wines I had to pass on by, because, well, you can only taste so much – really! Upon my arrival back to the store after this event, TWH staff was introduced to some of our new arrivals. It was the 2011 Rully Montagne La Folie that got me oohing and ahhing and also thinking about those A-list California wines that I got to taste earlier in the day. What occured to me was that this Rully, in its composition and character, was exactly what I believe many domestic producers are trying to replicate but so often miss the mark because their fruit, though vinified dry, can taste sweet on the finish, whereas this Rully, with all its fullness and broad palate, finishes crisp and bone-dry. It’s fresh and vibrant and it begs you to take another sip. And then there is the price, only $28.99 per bottle. A bargain for Burgundy, no question, but also a bargain for Chardonnay of this quality from anywhere – too true!
Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, is promising to be on the cool side for Northern California. I, for one, am ok with that because I can do without the crowds along the Russian River. I am perfectly happy to read a book under the redwoods or lounge on the sofa’s fold-out bed with the girl, the dog and the hubby, watching cartoons. I may have to bring along a bottle of Claudie’s 2011 Rully Montagne La Folie because life just goes by too quickly and I haven’t drunk enough white Burgundy!—Anya Balistreri