Anne Parent visited The Wine House at the end of January along with her sister Catherine and our dear friend and colleague, Jeanne-Marie de Champs. It’s not often we welcome three influential and prominent players from Burgundy at the same time, let alone three women. The dynamic in our tasting room was turned on its head. Most often, I am the only female in the room, but this time I was in the majority. As you can see from my expression in the photo below, I was overjoyed to be in their company.
Jeanne-Marie, Anne, Anya and Catherine
Anne and Catherine represent the twelfth generation at their family’s estate. Anne makes the wine while Catherine handles the commercial side of the winery. Domaine Parent itself was founded in 1803 in the heart of Pommard, but the family can trace its winemaking heritage back to the beginning of the 17th century. In fact, in 1787 Etienne Parent established a friendship and working partnership with Thomas Jefferson. Etienne assisted Jefferson in navigating Burgundy while he resided in France and then later partnered with Jefferson to import wine to the US when Jefferson returned to Monticello. This tidbit of history delights me – probably more than it would have prior to the invasion of Hamilton An American Musical into my home sphere courtesy of my obsessed daughter. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by wine’s influence on culture and history.
Getting ready for TWH staff
We tasted a couple of vintages and a number of different crus from Domaine Parent’s holdings. The wines are at once robust and not shy of tannin, yet remain finesseful and polished on the palate. We tasted mostly 2013 and 2014, but when we got to the 2011, Anne declared that “people will rediscover 2011”. As so often happens, classic vintages can get lost after hyped, exceptional vintages, in this case 2009 and 2010. 2011’s in Burgundy did have their fair share of challenges, but as Anne is widely quoted and said to us, “there are no bad vintages, only bad winemakers”. 2011 was one in which sorting grapes was of the upmost importance. At Domaine Parent, they sort in the vineyard where they only hand-pick the grapes, then again at the winery, first on a vibrating sorting table and after by hand. This thrice sorting method assures quality grapes. At the Domaine, they farm organically and practice many of the tenants of biodynamic farming.
What a line-up!
I was reflecting on how wine is marketed as the perfect gift for Father’s Day, but not so much for Mother’s Day. Maybe it’s the company I keep or my own personal preference, but I can’t think of too many women who wouldn’t love to receive a special, luxurious bottle of Pinot Noir, like the Parent 2011 Pommard 1er Cru Les Chaponnières. Les Chaponnières sits just below Rugiens and Parent’s vines are 60+ years old. The wine is aged in barrel, of which approximately 30% to 40% is new. Parent’s Pommard shows typicity by way of its fullness and sturdy backbone and yet, Anne coaxes out a suppleness and balance that creates a wine which is harmonious on the palate.
I’ve written this many times, TWH customers are the best. Come on in and I’ll share some stories about the many kind and interesting people I’ve met working here. A case in point, today a couple, who coincidentally share a surname with this Domaine I’m writing about today, came in bearing gifts from a trip they recently took to France. This generous gesture touched my heart, put a smile on my face and reminded me how lucky I am to be a part of this thing called the wine business. I’m thinking the anchovies can be added into a marinade for lamb that in turn should be mighty tasty with a glass of 2011 Pommard Les Chaponnières, n’est ce pas?– Anya Balistreri
Could it be because Pete just returned from Bordeaux, or that it’s Earth Day and I am thinking about human stewardship of the planet? Or is it because it is a wine I have frequently purchased for my own personal pleasure that I have selected to write a few words about the lovely white Entre-Deux-Mers from Chateau Ferran? For all the above reasons and more, I have the 2015 Chateau Ferran Entre-Deux-Mers on my mind. Entre-Deux-Mers is a expansive Bordeaux appellation but within it are a few choice sub-appellations. One of note is Haut Benauge and this is where you will find Chateau Ferran. Haut Benauge is directly across the Garonne River from Graves and because it is on high ground it is considered a choice location to grow wine grapes.
Chateau Ferran is a family-run estate that converted to organic and biodynamic farming nearly ten years ago. In preparation for this write-up, I visited Chateau Ferran’s website. The website has plenty of information about the winemaking, the farming philosophy and such, but there is practically no mention of the people who make the wine or run the estate. I think this is a deliberate exclusion. It suggests to me that the Ferran family places more importance on the land, the soil, the biodiversity of the vineyards, than on human intervention.
This Entre-Deux-Mers is a blend of equal parts Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with 10% each of Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle. I am drawn to the yellow fruit flavors, reminiscent of peaches and apricots, that linger long on the palate. It has no pungent, grassy flavors so often associated with Sauvignon Blanc. All tank fermented, with some time on the lees, it has gorgeous floral aromatics that bring to mind citrus blossoms and acacia. The finish is slightly creamy and is very fresh. It has filled in very nicely as my Friday Night Fish Fry wine, making a lovely match with baked, breaded Petrale Sole.
Julien Ferran is the current winemaker who took over from his father, Alain. Julien is a biologist by trade, so his interest in biodynamic farming is not unexpected (check out
this video of Julien discussing geobiology in the vineyard). I know for many the principles of biodynamic farming are controversial and verge on the cult-like, but in my anecdotal experience with wineries who embrace biodynamics, I see a direct connection between the exhaustive, conscientious work down in the vineyard and the quality of the wine. This under $15 Bordeaux blanc is impressive because of the effort that went into it and the final outcome, its deliciousness.
Samples of Chateau Ferran were sent to us by another French winery who included them among their own samples. We had no prior relationship to Chateau Ferran when we tasted the samples. We knew nothing of them other than they were friends of a wine family with whom we were starting to do business. Based solely on the quality (and price) of the samples, we purchased a pallet of Chateau Ferran. This is atypical of TWH to pull the trigger so quickly, but good wine is good wine – we recognized it immediately, so we felt there was little risk.
The last few weeks have had a recurring theme for me that centers around the question, “what do you believe in?” I have been asking myself a lot of questions about what I am willing to stand up for personally, socially and spiritually. I’ll spare you my existential angst, but if I’m comparing two wines of equal pleasure to me and one is made by a small family who farms organically and/or biodynamically and the other is mass-produced, industrially made, I am going to pick the former every time. The 2015 Entre-Deux-Mers is coming home with me tonight. I am not sure what is on the menu, but I’ll start the evening with a chilled glass of it. Tastes good and it’s good for you! – Anya Balistreri
In my last post I wrote that Enrico Pierazzuoli was in San Francisco to pour his wines at Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri World Tour held at Fort Mason’s Festival Pavillon. Enrico is a practical man who does not place too much importance on scores, awards and such, but when his estate in Carmignano, Le Farnete, received a “Tre Bicchieri” for their 2013 Carmignano Riserva, he was clearly honored. It feels good to be recognized for your efforts, especially when it’s by Italy’s most influential wine and food publication.
Tuscany’s Carmignano is a lesser-known appellation, but its history of wine growing traces back centuries. In 1716, the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici legally recognized and identified this area for wine growing. Enrico appreciated the timing of receiving his first-ever “Tre Bicchieri” while celebrating Carmignano’s 300th Anniversary! The 2013 Carmignano Riserva is a blend of 80% Sangiovese with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in small oak barrel for a year and then another year in bottle before being released to market, it is a full-bodied expression of Sangiovese. The inclusion of a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon is enough to give the wine significant back-bone and structure. Less than 200 cases are produced of the Riserva and only in the best years. It is a wine with a long life ahead of it.
The Pierazzuoli’s run a traditional osteria on their estate in Chianti Montalbano. They sent out a notice earlier this week that they no longer have any reservations open for Easter. Of course there is lamb on the menu, so I am guessing patrons will be enjoying the 2013 Carmignano Riserva as it should be a perfect match. Shame I can’t be there! Buona Pasqua! -Anya Balistreri
This year’s visit from the Enrico and Gianlorenzo Show coincided with the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri World Tour’s stop in San Francisco on February 15. Enrico was pouring his wine on the tour and Gianlorenzo Picollo, his friend, fellow winemaker, and traveling companion, came along too. Those two usually travel to the States together, which works out perfectly for us because we get the pleasure of meeting with two of our favorite Italian producers at the same time. I lovingly call their visit a “show” because they remind me of a duo á la Jay and Silent Bob, as Enrico is the talkative one and Gianlorenzo, shy and less sure of his English, taking on the role of the sidekick.
Enrico, Gianlorenzo and David
The “show” begins with Gianlorenzo pouring his fabulous Gavis. Pete wrote about the Rovereto earlier in the year. Since there are only two Gavis and the winemaking here is fairly straight forward, this portion of the show is quick. Next up is Enrico with his line-up from two estates; one from Chianti Montalbano and the other from Carmignano. This can take a while because Enrico is adamant on explaining all aspects of his wine production, not to mention that he is not one to hold back on sharing his opinion on, well, most things. I for one relish these presentations by Enrico. His enthusiasm and devotion to his work comes through with equal parts seriousness and humor. Enrico has a dry wit and delivers it with grand hand gestures and animated facial expressions.
2015 Chianti Montalbano
The first wine Enrico poured for us was the 2015 Chianti Montalbano and it was clear right off the bat that this is one of his finest efforts. Enrico, swinging his arms up and folding them behind his head, explained it this way, “in 2014 you really needed to make the wine, in 2015 it made itself…you could go to the beach”. 2015 was a favorable vintage across Italy and Montalbano was no exception. The Sangiovese fully ripened while retaining all the necessary structure, acid and tannin to make great wine. In general, Enrico’s Chianti Montalbano tends to be fruit-driven and light-to-medium bodied, but the 2015 is noticeably fuller and dense. The vines are now over twenty years old and that also contributes to the quality of the grapes.
TWH staff and Enrico spoke at length about the challenges of making and selling Chianti. So much of what is produced is what Enrico calls “industrially made”. These mass produced Chiantis are antithesis to the approach Enrico and his family take to making wine. For the Pierazzuoli’s, it is a real family affair. In addition to making wine, they produce their own olive oil as well as other food delicacies like vegetable conserves and fruit jams. They renovated their farmhouse into an agriturismo and most recently converted an ancient hayloft into a traditional Tuscan osteria. Last summer, my niece had the pleasure of staying a night at one of their apartments during a tour through Italy. She and her fiancé had dinner at the osteria. It was the highlight of their trip. I think I’m due a trip there myself! In the meantime, it’ll be bowls of pasta Puttanesca and glasses of 2015 Chianti Montalbano to tie me over until then.– Anya Balistreri
Moulin-à-Vent is considered by most to be the king of Cru Beaujolais. Keeping this in mind, you can imagine our excitement when a recent container brought with it a brand new producer, Le Nid, to our warehouse from this region. But for some strange reason we didn’t taste it as a staff right away. David was playing it cool, down-playing his recent acquisition. He obviously forgot how jazzed we get over Cru Beaujolais. He was probably just waiting for the right time to pull the cork. This week was finally the time and the response from the staff was unanimous – Le Nid’s 2013 Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle is a delight! For a Moulin-à-Vent, which is noted for its structure and fullness, the Le Nid is perfectly polished and rounded despite its underlying structure.
The Lardet family purchased an existing domaine and its six hectares of vines in 2012, renaming it Le Nid. Le Nid, or nest en français, not only reflects their raison d’être approach to farming but also to the notion of bringing family back home to the nest. Paul and Danielle Lardet are joined by their three children in this endeavor. Moulin-à-Vent’s mostly east-facing slopes are made up of a soil called gore or grès which has deposits of crumbly pink granite with seams of manganese in it, giving the wine its distinctive characteristic. The 2013 Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle comes from a single one hectare parcel, producing less than 200 cases. The average age of the vines are fifty years old. They partially de-stem the fruit and age the wine in neutral barrel for at least 12 months. The wine has the wild strawberry fruit, notes of undergrowth and mineral typical of quality Beaujolais, but has none of those tank-y, tutti-frutti aromas or flavors. It has a whole lot of black fruit on the palate with a delicious thread of vanilla on the finish. I enjoyed how rounded the flavors sat on the palate, but clearly has the structure that begs for food.
The Lardets were fortunate to debut their wine with the 2013 vintage. The 2013 growing season in Beaujolais was blessed with a sunny July and August. The favorable weather continued on through a late harvest. This slow, long growing season produced small berries, allowing for a high skin-to-juice ratio. They submitted the 2013 Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle to the Concours des Grands Vins de France, receiving a gold medal. Not a bad way to start out! This is positive validation that they are on the right path to making noteworthy Moulin-à-Vent. Right now, Le Nid, is way under the radar, but I think fans of Cru Beaujolais are going to quickly change that fact.
So I’ve been sitting on pins and needles while writing this newsletter. I am missing my daughter’s play-off basketball game and haven’t heard any news. The game has added drama to it because it was scheduled at the same time my daughter was to perform in a production of Beauty and the Beast. It was a tough decision to make. She chose to miss this one performance (with the blessing of the director) to join her teammates, despite knowing the coach wouldn’t play her much, but felt she was needed there to emotionally support the team. Got to admire her for that! Finally got the call…they won by a point! Bringing home a bottle of Le Nid to celebrate, as it too is a winner in my book! – Anya Balistreri
When you discover five cases of a 2008 Chardonnay made by arguably one of California’s most respected winemakers, who do you call? The Wine House! Mel Knox along with winemaker Jim Clendenen partner to make wines under the Ici/La-Bas label. Mel called a week ago and said he had some wine he wanted to show us. Any opportunity to taste with Mel Knox is a welcome one – I will always make time for him. Mel has an encyclopedic knowledge of California’s wine history and of wine in general. He began his career in retail, then started his own company selling French barrels nearly 40 years ago. He knows the industry intimately both here and abroad and has been an integral player in the advancement of California’s wine industry.
And so, Mel came by the store to pour us wine from Ici/La-Bas and from another project he is involved with. I wouldn’t characterize Mel as a typical sales person as he is truly candid and honest in assessing his own wines. A masterful storyteller, his visits are never a splash and dash. The first wine he poured was the Ici/La-Bas 2008 Elke Vineyard Chardonnay from Anderson Valley. Inventory management being what it is, Mel “found” a few cases of it in his warehouse. I wouldn’t say I was skeptical, I know how well Jim Clendenen’s wines age, I just wasn’t expecting to be so blown away by it. It was youthful, fresh, delicious and complex. The flavors on the palate unfurled with each taste, noting apple, pear, creamy vanilla, flint and mineral and a whole lot more. It is a truly Burgundian-styled California Chardonnay.
I asked Mel if he would email a few notes on the winemaking to me. The Chardonnay was barrel fermented in 228 liter Francois Freres barrels. A barrel expert, he explained that, “The barrels were made from wood from the Bertranges forest, air dried three years. Bertranges gives wine a bit more tannic structure, perhaps bad for short-range consumption of the wine but great for long term aging. The longer seasoning of the wood eliminates the harsh tannins and provides a more subtle flavor. We used about 35% new barrels.” The wine was left on its lees for an extended period, then bottled in the Spring of 2010. Now with almost seven years of bottle age, the wine is in its prime! How often do you get the benefit of a cellared wine for such a reasonable price? TWH is offering the remaining bit of 2008 Chardonnay for $29.98 a bottle!
I spent a portion of the morning reading online articles on Jim Clendenen. My intention was to use some provocative quote of his to highlight Jim’s reputation for being a non-conformist in the wine industry. If you’d like to read a couple quick articles on Jim, please click here, here or here. In my early days at TWH, Jim often came by with new releases. David was an early admirer of Au Bon Climat wines. I was also fortunate to have been a guest at Jim’s annual luncheon at his friend, Michael Wild’s restaurant, Bay Wolf, a couple of times. A tasting of new releases from Au Bon Climat would precede a lunch that always included cellared bottles – that is how I discovered how well his wines aged. Jim lives up to his reputation and I find him inspirational. I always left those luncheons glad to be a part of the wine business.
When Mel left the store, David and I remained in the tasting room discussing the 2008 Chardonnay. David, like myself, was impressed with the wine. He said that TWH might not be known as a California Chardonnay house, but when a wine is this good, we can’t pass it up. With that, I placed my order. Revel in this well-cellared wine. It is in its prime, will likely age further, but is really one to enjoy right now – be in the moment! It is a testament to the skill of the winemaker. It’s a show piece.
I’ll be buying some bottles to take home. I plan to stump industry friends with it, share with my girlfriends who are exclusively Chardonnay drinkers, and for when I am hankering for the style of California Chardonnay I enjoy most. The Ici/La-Bas 2008 Chardonnay Elke Vineyard is not to be missed!
– Anya Balistreri