Category Archives: Anya Balistreri
Not to belabor the obvious, but it’s cold outside. And it gets dark earlier too. This signals the time of year when Syrah calls out to me the loudest – I hear you Syrah, loud and clear! A robust, full-flavored Syrah paired with a slow braised one-pot dish; now that’s sounds good to me. As I look around the store, searching for that Syrah to satiate my craving, my eyes naturally fall onto our limited, but stellar selection of Northern Rhones. Of the two producers TWH directly imports, Domaine Belle is the most established. When I came to work for TWH in the late 90’s, Belle was a relative newcomer on the Rhone scene and a true darling of Robert Parker who was a great advocate for this French region, propelling fervent enthusiasm for Syrah. In the 1997 revised edition of “Wines of the Rhone Valley”, Parker concludes his review of Belle by writing it was “one of the bright, shining stars of Crozes-Hermitage, and this is an estate to follow”. In my opinion, he was absolutely right. So what has Domaine Belle been up to in the two decades since Parker wrote that statement? They’ve been consistently making outstanding wines that fly under the radar!
Philippe Belle is at the helm, having taken over from his father Albert who retired in 2003. Fortunately for Domaine Belle fans, Philippe has sons who are being groomed to work in the family business. On his trip to France this past November, David paid a visit to Belle where he tasted recent and upcoming vintages. There he met with Philippe and his son, Valentin, who is currently studying enology at Montpellier. David sent a photo of father and son to me (I’m always hounding him to take more pics on his trips!) as well as a photo of the 2015 Crozes Hermitage Roche Pierre, which he captioned “one of the darkest wines I’ve ever seen”. The 2015 Roche Pierre won’t be available any time soon, but we do have the gorgeous 2012 in stock now. And though we bid adieu to our 39th Anniversary Sale, we will offer the 2012 Roche Pierre at discount for this email – regularly $36.99 per bottle, on sale for $27.95 per bottle!
Roche Pierre is a single-vineyard with vines upwards of 70 years old grown on granitic soil. These are special vines and Belle only bottles this wine in special vintages (otherwise it goes into Cuvee Louis Belle). We have the ’12 in stock, and they made ’13 and ’15, but no ’11 or ’14. It is a wine that showcases the full spectrum of Syrah’s appeal, from the inky color to the dark, black fruit to the spicy, smoky notes. The texture is rich with firm tannins. Less than 300 cases of this single-vineyard Crozes-Hermitage are produced. Jeb Dunnuck who has taken over reviewing Rhone wines for Parker had this to say about the 2012 Roche Pierre:
“I was blown away by the 2012 Crozes Hermitage Roche Pierre and it showed even better from bottle than barrel, which is always a good sign. Aged two years in 40% new French oak, it’s certainly one of the top wines of this appellation. Cassis, toasted spice, leather, beautiful minerality and classic minerality are all present in this full-bodied, focused, pure and age-worthy Crozes Hermitage. There’s no shortage of tannin here, so give it a year or three, it will have 10-15 years of longevity.” 94 points #216 Dec. 2014
This weekend I will be celebrating a milestone birthday…my baby girl is turning 13! A teenager. It doesn’t seem possible. Her birthday lands on Old Calendar Christmas Eve (Happy Birthday to MTP as well!), so we’ll first celebrate with a traditional Russian lenten meal with family then host a rip-roaring sleepover party with her BFFs the next evening. Call me crazy, but I love hearing all the girl chatter and laughter filling up the house. It warms my heart. Happy Birthday to Sascha, my sweet girl…many blessed years! And Happy New Year to all of you! – Anya Balistreri
Cantine Russo Part 2: The Sparklers
Two weeks ago, I wrote about TWH’s new acquisition from Italy, Cantine Russo. I am back to share more wines from this Sicilian producer, but this time it’s not just wine, it’s sparkling wine! There are two: one Blanc de Blancs and one Rosé. It being the season of festive glass clinking, the timing couldn’t have been better to introduce these two exceptional sparklers. I must admit, when I learned that David found a producer in Sicily he wanted to import, I was elated. But when I learned that of the three wines, two were sparklers, I was less enthusiastic. How come you ask? Well, we already import a fabulous Prosecco,Cremant d’Alsace and two sparklers from the Loire, a Vouvray Brut and Touraine Rosé. Did we need two more? Upon my first taste of them, the answer was yes! Wholeheartedly, yes!
There is so much to like and appreciate about Cantine Russo’s sparklers which they call Mon Pit. The name, Mon Pit, refers to the small craters formed on Mount Etna. Both the Blanc de Blancs and Rosé are vintage dated, produced in the traditional Champagne method and stay on the lees for 24-36 months. All this for only $25.98 per bottle! I know what I’ll be drinking both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve…
The Mon Pit Blanc de Blancs is made from Carricante and Cataratto. Carricante is known for its marked acidity, so it makes sense that it could be fermented into a well-balanced, vibrant sparkling wine. The wine is golden-hued with a satisfying yeasty baked bread flavor. Persistent bubbles deliver flavors of honey, citrus and yellow fruits. The sweet fruit finishes with a yeasty, almond note. This is an elegant and serious effort at making fine bubbles outside of Champagne.
The Mon Pit Rosé is made from yet another indigenous Sicilian grape, Nerello Mascalese. I describe Nerello Mascalese to customers as having the same type of perfume and elegance as Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. This Rosé is not tutti frutti, but is like the Blanc de Blancs – dry, full-flavored and balanced. The color is more peachy than pink and has flavors of dried cranberry, red plums with a pleasurable spicy note on the finish. It’s got depth and a yeastiness that distinguishes it from sparklers made in the Charmat method. I am sat here salivating, thinking of how magical this Rosé would be with some crispy fried chicken!
Considering it’s a week before Christmas, I feel remarkably relaxed. Last year was quite a different story. I learned a valuable lesson from that incredibly stressful period that I am mindful of this year and that is that it is ok to let things go and not do so much. Christmas will come whether or not I’ve found the perfect gift for so-and-so, cooked the perfect meal or mailed out cards. As a wise man once wrote: “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” I’ll be spending Christmas with my family and for that I’m blessed. Here’s wishing you all to be surrounded by loved ones with a glass of bubbly in hand as 2016 closes out!– Anya Balistreri
2015 Rampante Etna Bianco from Cantine Russo
The stable of Italian producers that TWH directly imports has increased by one: Cantine Russo. Cantine Russo sits on the northeast slope of Sicily’s Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The winery is family-run and can trace its winemaking roots back to 1860. It wasn’t until 1955 that Ciccio Russo began bottling wine to sell commercially. Ciccio’s son, Vincenzo is the current owner. Vincenzo runs the winery with his son, Francesco, who is the winemaker and his daughter, Gina, who handles the day-to-day operations.
In an article celebrating the women of Etna, Gina recalls running around her grandfather’s cellar with her brother. She describes her first harvest at about age 5 and claims to not have missed a single one in 40 years! This tight-knit bond the Russo family has to the land is common among natives of Etna. Having visited the area, I can understand the lure to stay in this harsh, yet painfully beautiful landscape. Over the last decade or so, more and more attention has been given to Sicilian wines particularly those from Mount Etna. It really is incredible to think about all the challenges and risks involved in growing grapes on an active volcano. It takes steadfast dedication.
Cantine Russo concentrates on indigenous varietals, like Carricante and Cataratto, which make up the blend for the 2015 Rampante Etna Bianco. Carricante makes up 80% of the blend and is thought to have grown in Sicily for at least a thousand years. Today it is fairly rare, only the 31st most planted grape variety on the island. It is noted for its acidity and citrusy flavors. Carricante is often blended with Cataratto, which is far more common, taking up nearly 60% of the island’s total vineyard area. Cataratto is low in acidity and therefore makes a nice blending partner with Carricante. The 2015 Rampante, though unoaked, is quite complex and above all is mineral-driven. The wine is golden-hued, the aromas are subtle and delicate…notes of flint and white pepper emerge slowly. If you like steely, nervy white wines, than the 2015 Rampante is right up your alley. I enjoyed a bottle over the course of three days. The wine stayed fresh and vibrant. I noticed different aspects with each glass. Though subtle, its definitely not a one-note kind of wine. I’d love to stow away a few bottles to see how it ages. My prediction is that is would do quite well in the near term.
I travelled to Sicily with my husband (who at the time was my boyfriend), his parents, sister and a cousin. It was a memorable trip with its ups and downs, and I long to go back. With each glass of the Rampante I imagined some of the dishes that stood out for me during that trip like the raw marinated shrimp or deep-fried baby whitebait. I can’t wait to try the 2015 Rampante with cracked Dungeness crab – now that should be quite a match!
I’ve been taking deep breaths lately. December is holding up to its promise of being a whirlwind month. My daughter, the thespian, is in six performances of Annie Jr. this weekend. Last night I signed up to volunteer in the dreaded “Room 5”. I’m not sure why no one signs up for this duty, which is to supervise the younger cast members. In this case, I was the “orphan wrangler.” Sure, the kids were super cute, boisterous and extremely talkative, but what touched me was the professionalism shown by these young actors. One orphan arrived late. By this time most of the costumes were spoken for. I helped her find something that would fit over her tiny body, pinning it were needed. She never complained that it wasn’t fair that somebody took her costume. No, nothing like that. Instead she reassured me that she was an orphan so didn’t need to wear anything special. Now that’s pretty special! – Anya Balistreri
The Chianti sub-zone of Colli Senesi covers a large area, so as a whole, its reputation for quality does lag behind the more famous and narrowly defined Chianti Classico. But discerning eyes and palates know that drawn borders and appellations only tell part of the story. Take Le Rote as an example, located just a mile north of the famous towers of San Gimignano, you might also notice that it is just 16 miles due west of Castellina, the sweet spot of Chianti Classico. The soil, climate and altitude are quite similar to each other.
To continue the story, Le Rote is owned by Massimo Scotti and his family. They run a successful agriturismo business, make olive oil and produce wine. Their wine production is small, most of it consumed by the guests staying at their restored 18th century farmhouse and also sell a large portion of their fruit to off-set costs. Their Sangiovese is grown on a south-west facing hill with a 100 meters of separation from top to bottom. Depending on vintage conditions, they may either harvest from the top, the bottom, or the middle of the slope. Because they can afford to harvest by altitude, their Chianti has incredible consistency. The importer for this wine explained to me that “we’ve never met anyone else with the circumstance and ability to be so surgical in their harvest”. Their enologist, Paolo Caciorgna, who also makes wines nearby for Andrea Bocelli, is a native of San Gimignano and appreciates the approach the Scotti’s take to viticulture. The historic clone Sangiovese grapes are hand-harvested, sustainably farmed and dry farmed. Total production of the Chianti Colli Senesi is shy of 600 cases with yields averaging a bottle a plant.
The 2011 Chianti Colli Senesi from Le Rote is jam-packed with black cherry flavors, some sweet earthy aromatic notes, and a satisfying, easy-going finish. It’s drinking optimally right now and should stay so for months to come. To inaugurate The Wine House’s 39th Anniversary Sale, the 2011 Le Rote Chianti Colli Senesi is now on sale for $14.95 per bottle, down from $19.98. To sweeten the pot even further, we are also offering the enticing special full-case price of $142 – that’s less than $12 per bottle! Now that’s a deal, non ci piove! Take advantage of this deep discount to spread holiday cheer far and wide. A bottle for your neighbor perhaps who pet-sits in a moment’s notice or for the friend who is always available to help out on demo-days? Stashing a case is going to make last minute gift-giving a cinch. Who wouldn’t love a bottle of Chianti?
During my research for this write-up, I felt it compulsory to test out a bottle with a bowl of classic red-sauced pasta. Talk about comfort food. You could put a candle on it and serve it to me in lieu of a birthday cake. No joke. There is something magical about the combination of Sangiovese and a tomato-based pasta sauce. The fruit flavors of Sangiovese waltz seamlessly with the acid of the tomato. A dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano completes the sweet/salty balance to achieve flavor nirvana. Cook up a pot, open some bottles of 2011 Le Rote Chianti Colli Senesi and invite a bunch of friends over for dinner. Do it – it’ll be good for you! – Anya Balistreri
Dolcetto D’Alba from Aurelio Settimo
He ended the phone conversation with “and I’m going to the store to pick up some cans of 6 in 1”. Music to my ears! My husband is making red sauce, or if you like, gravy. I know what I’m bringing home tonight: 2015 Dolcetto d’Alba from Aurelio Settimo. The 2015 Dolcetto d’Alba landed earlier this month and just in time as the 2014 has been sold out for nearly a month. We introduced the wines of Aurelio Settimo in early 2016, dubbing them “Time Machine Wines” because they move the style dial towards “traditional” and away from “modern/international”.
Settimo’s Dolcetto Vines
Winemaker Tiziana Settimo took production over from her father in 2007 upon his passing. She had worked with her father for twenty years and continues the same traditional winemaking she learned from him. Settimo owns a little over two acres of Dolcetto which is east facing and grown on calcareous soil. Calcareous soil is optimal for growing Dolcetto. Dolcetto is reputed to be difficult to cultivate and vinify. This coupled with the fact that demand for Piedmontese Nebbiolo is at an all time high, helps explain why the total acreage of planted Dolcetto is decreasing. And this is a real shame. Nebbiolo can certainly make some of the world’s greatest wine, but what about the joy of a well-made “everyday” wine? Dolcetto has charming, grapey flavors, with bright acidity and medium tannins. It’s versatility and freshness make it the perfect everyday/any day red.
Harvest 2016 at Settimo
At Settimo the Dolcetto grapes are hand harvested with careful selection of the bunches. Tiziana gently presses the grapes, leaves the wine on the skins for a short seven days, with frequent pump overs and ages it in concrete tanks for about six months. Because Dolcetto tends to be reductive, the pump overs allow for oxygenation, keeping the flavors and aromas fresh. Making good Dolcetto can take as much (or more) effort than it does Barolo. Settimo’s Dolcetto d’Alba is redolent of plum and cheerful red cherry fruit and finishes with perky acidity. It’s got a lot of zing. When the 2015 Dolcetto d’Alba was delivered to our warehouse, we were happy to see that David upped the numbers from what we purchased of the 2014. About the 2014 we joked that it was the wine that sold without ever writing about it. It found its way home repeatedly with many customers who shop at the store. The 2015 Dolcetto d’Alba is here and in good quantity…for the moment.
Picture perfect Dolcetto bunches
6 in 1 All-Purpose Ground Tomatoes is essential to making gravy, at least the Balistreri way. No other canned tomatoes will do. My husband makes a large batch; some to eat now while the remainder is frozen for future meals. A red-sauced pasta is going to need a wine with palpable acidity like a Dolcetto d’Alba to make a merry match. It has been a satisfying week with poured concrete (yeah, no more dirt path!), measurable rain and a daughter who went to her 7th grade school dance and said it was fun. As to the weekend, I’ll be putting out Halloween decorations and stock-piling candy. Our well-lighted, close to the curb house typically sees over 500 trick-or-treaters. This is not an exaggeration! I won’t even bother closing the door, but will pull up a chair to the front door to greet the masses. Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and sweet Halloween! – Anya Balistreri
Wine & Spirits Magazine: Top 100
Last week Jeanne-Marie de Champs came to town, this week it was Diane de Puymorin and Mathieu Chatain from Château d’Or et de Gueules. It was a quick trip as this husband and wife team flew out to California specifically to participate in Wine & Spirits Magazine‘s grand tasting featuring the Top 100 Wineries of 2016. It is the first time in this magazine’s history that they’ve selected a winery from the appellation of Costières de Nîmes for this honor. Now, anyone who has ever been to our store or read any of our newletters should be pretty familiar with Château d’Or et de Gueueles, as we’ve been hardcore fans ever since Diane started making wine. We are thrilled that they’ve been recognized in this way by such a high profile publication. They deserve the accolades!
Diane and Mathieu @ TWH
At the grand tasting Diane and Mathieu poured the 2011 La Bolida which was featured in the Top 100 issue. It received a whopping 94 points and a glowing review (see below). On Tuesday, Diane and Mathieu came by the store to meet with staff and catch up on things wine related and otherwise. TWH has held several wine dinners with Diane over the years, but this was the first time we got to meet her husband Mathieu. Diane told us that we’ve heard her speak about Château d’Or et de Gueules plenty of times, so it would be a nice change to have Mathieu present the wines. Mathieu began his presentation by describing his relationship with Diane at the winery this way, “she is the brain and the hands are here”, raising his hands up for all to see. His affection and respect for his winemaker wife was unmistakable. Mathieu explained that the decision to make wine was not motivated by vanity but by choosing a way of life. With five daughters to raise, living and working on the land was the life they wanted to persue. Next, Mathieu boiled it down to three things that make their wines exceptional: 1) the terroir: stony, pebbly soil like in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and with proximity to the sea, the climate is ideal, 2) low, low yields and 3) they harvest at the right moment – just at the peak of maturity. It’s that simple…!
La Bolida falls under a category that Diane and Mathieu like to call “passion”; a small batch cuvée that takes all of their effort to make the finest wine. La Bolida is made from their oldest Mourvèdre vines which range in age from 80-100 years old. The yields are miniscule, only 10hl/h (whereas the appellation allows for 60hl/h). They produce about 3,000 bottles of La Bolida. That’s only 250 cases! While we were tasting the 2011 La Bolida, Diane stretched her hand outwards from her mouth to demonstrate the long length of the wine. She described what she finds in La Bolida as the elegant tension of fruit with the freshness of acidity and tannin. To achieve this balance, Diane ages the wine in 300 liter barrel for a year, then old foudre for another year, and then rests the wine in concrete tank for 6-12 months before bottling. She likes what aging in barrel does for the structure of the wine but she doesn’t want the oak to dominate. The 2011 La Bolida is impactful and impressive. The generous fruit is succulent and cohesive. At once powerful and elegant. La Bolida is masterfully blended with the intention of keeping the integrity of the old vine Mourvèdre front and center. Wow!
Diane & Mathieu
Who’s coming next to visit us? It feels like a party over here in Dogpatch! I always tell new customers that at TWH, we have long relationships with many of the wineries we carry and that we prefer to do business with people we like. For me, it’s more than just about the wine, it’s about the people – their stories and their passion. Meeting with Diane and Mathieu this week puts this all into practice. – Anya Balistreri
2010 Aloxe Corton from Rapet
Vincent Rapet’s family has a long connection to winemaking in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. Domaine Rapet dates back to 1765. In Anthony Hanson’s book, Burgundy, he writes, “I remember the late Robert Rapet pulling out his massive family tastevin (inscribed L. Rapet D. Pernand 1792), clapping it between his hands, saying it was built to withstand the pressures of heated conversation.” We could all use a tastevin like that, couldn’t we? Vincent is Robert’s grandson and is continuing the family tradition of making wine. The domaine has 20 hectares of vines, making both red and white. The cave is in the picturesque and quaint village of Pernand Vergelesses. Among their offerings is a village Aloxe Corton red that captures the best of that appellation.
2010 Aloxe Corton from Rapet
Aloxe Corton is a sturdy, robust red. The elegant, ethereal Pinot Noir of the Côte de Nuits and its famed Grand Crus are what may at first come to mind when thinking about red Burgundy, but really as a whole, Burgundy offers drinkers a far greater range of styles. A fine Aloxe Corton harkens back to a more grippy, meaty wine that in my circle is often referred to as “farmer wine”. Not meant to be derogatory, this term illustrates the more rustic nature of some Burgundy. Imagine stopping at a small roadside restaurant where the conversation is animated and strictly in French. The daily lunch special is Coq au Vin. You want a good bottle of Burgundy to go with your order. Let’s face it, you aren’t going to buy a bottle of Richebourg, but a well-aged Aloxe Corton, now that’s the way to go. TWH has a few cases of 2010 Aloxe Corton and that’s the kind of wine you are going to want to serve with all manner of braised dishes or hearty stews.
Vincent and his father, Roland Rapet
Rapet’s Aloxe Corton comes from three sites: Les Boutières, Les Citernes, and Les Combes. As with all their reds, the wine is aged in oak of which about 20% is new. 2010 was a vintage that produced low yields but of excellent quality. Vincent is quite pleased with his 2010’s. At a staff tasting, we revisited the 2010 Aloxe Corton and were happy to see that is has begun to soften up its tannins. Aloxe Corton is expected to be a bit stern in its youth, but with patience and cellaring, it can develop into a wine with depth. Rapet’s 2010 Aloxe Corton is in the beginning stages of its optimal drinking window. Chewy red raspberry fruit, firm structure and prominent acidity bundle up together to make a formidable red wine. I wanted desperately to write about this wine at the beginning of summer when we tasted it, but I conceded that it was more suitable to serving during cooler months. This wine will show off its attributes best with either a rib-sticking meal or with an after-dinner cheese course.
I’ve been hankering to make a classic beef stew with root vegetables. The chilly mornings have signaled to me that fall has arrived, that and regular-season NFL games. Isn’t football only played on Sundays – when did that all change? I’ve been paging through my copy of Patricia Well’s Bistro Cooking looking for inspiration. I love her brief descriptions of the characters behind the dishes. As a home cook, I appreciate the simplicity of the recipes knowing that with quality ingredients I too can make something tasty. Rapet’s 2010 Aloxe Corton is a wine I’ll happily reach for when I finally get around to making that beef stew. The hominess of the dish will beautifully embrace the lusty purity of the wine. – Anya Balistreri
%d bloggers like this: