Category Archives: Anya Balistreri
Sancerre Les Godons 2014
After three extremely challenging vintages, 2014 was a welcome and much needed respite for Loire Valley vintners. July and August did bring a bit o’ worry to growers as heat and rain ping ponged back and forth creating the perfect conditions for rot, but September came to the rescue with a string of glorious, sunny days. Throughout the region, you could hear a collective heavy sigh of relief. Philippe Raimbault’s Sancerre Les Godons encapsulates the best traits of the 2014 vintage, which is to say the best wines have ripe fruit in combination with enlivened acidity.
Raimbault Vineyards in Sury En Vaux
Philippe Raimbault farms close to 40 acres in three appellations: Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and the Coteaux de Giennois. He is one of the few non-negociants in the Loire to do so. Philippe comes from a long-line of winemakers dating back to the 1700s. Typically Sancerre producers use several parcels to make their wine, not just one contiguous plot. Hail is notorious for destroying crops is this region, so it is prudent to use grapes from several locations. For his Apud Sariacum Sancerre Philippe does just that – he uses 22 different parcels of vines which circle the village of Sury En Vaux. The Les Godons Sancerre is unusual as it is a single-vineyard that is south-facing and is shaped like an amphitheater. An etching of the vineyard is depicted on the label. Philippe’s grandfather purchased Les Godons in 1946. The exposition of the vineyard contributes to a unique microclimate. I find the Les Godons’ Sauvignon Blanc to be a little richer, a little more opulent, a tad more tropical than your average Sancerre.
Fossil Found in the Vineyard
The 2014 Les Godons has penetrating fruit flavors of mandarin, pomelo and passion fruit. On the nose it screams of Sauvignon Blanc but stops short of being assaulting. On the palate the ripe fruit flavors are escorted by a pronounced minerality. The Les Godons is energetic and, well, delicious. For an unoaked wine, it has superb texture and weight. The fruit Philippe is able to harvest from this special vineyard makes for a high-impact wine. It distinguishes itself from most Sancerre.
Pre-Friday Night Fish Fry Glass
Temperatures spiked in the Bay Area, even the inside of my house got sweltering hot. Except for the Thirst Gamay from Radford Dale, white wine has been the vin de jour all week. For our Friday Night Fish Fry, I was craving something that had complexity, had substantial fruit presence yet finished fresh and lively. I looked around the store to see what I should begin chilling in our tiny staff refrigerator so that after battling end of the work week traffic, I could cool down with a zippy white. My eyes landed on the 2014 Les Godons and I knew I found what I was looking for. I was not disappointed. With a glass in hand, sitting on the front porch, greeting neighbors as they strolled past, I savored the lush flavors of this special Sancerre. Though it tasted nicely with baked fish, I was thinking next time I would like to serve this with a Cobb salad, substituting the Roquefort for Humbolt Fog. A splendid idea!– Anya Balistreri
Introducing: Thirst from Radford Dale
What is a geek wine? Among wine drinkers I know, a geek wine does not hold a negative connotation – quite the opposite. A geek wine is something that could be rare or less known, certainly not mainstream, and is most likely appreciated by a confident wine drinker (meaning someone who knows what they like and drink it). Thirst Gamay from Radford Dale is such a wine.
Where to begin? First, it is Gamay. Gamay as in Beaujolais, but this one is from South Africa. South Africa has only 32 known acres of Gamay vines. That is 0.0128% of total planted vines in South Africa. Leave it to super sleuth Alex Dale to find a vineyard with any Gamay. The Gamay Radford Dale sources were planted in 1984, so they are fully mature vines with naturally producing low yields. The vines grow on a low-wire trellis system which allows the grapes to grow underneath the canopy, sheltering the berries from direct sunlight, allowing for good retention of acidity and freshness.
Alex Dale Modeling His Shirt @ TWH
In the cellar, the grapes were fermented whole berry and whole bunch. A portion of the wine went through carbonic maceration. After 3 months in tank, the wine spent a short time in old neutral barrel. The wine is neither fined nor filtered and a minimal amount of sulphur was used. The alcohol content clocks in at a whopping 11.5%! Approximately 500 cases of this unique red were produced which means TWH has 4% of the production.
Ok, so what does it taste like? I first tasted the 2015 Thirst Gamay back in May when our stock arrived in our warehouse coinciding with a visit from the owner and founder of Radford Dale, Alex Dale. A visit from Alex Dale is always inspiring, entertaining, informative and motivating. Alex has a lot to say and I like what I hear. The emphasis Alex places on being ecologically and socially conscientious in the pursuit of making wine is honorable, to say the least. It is not just lip service with him. I found the entire line-up of his newly arrived wines the best I’ve tasted yet, but it was the new line, Thirst, that had our staff captivated. The Thirst Gamay is light bodied. You could say it is like a dark rosé, but I think it is better to describe it as a very, very, light red wine. The varietal flavors of the Gamay are spot-on and recognizable: lots of red berry fruit, a dusty earthiness and a perfumed green note of tomato leaf. The finish has an exhilarating dryness to it just as fine cru Beaujolais does. The tannins are present, giving structure to the wine, at the same time the low alcohol makes for a light, refreshing drink. As Alex told our staff, “all our wines are built on an architecture of acidity”, so that is there too, giving lift and freshness.
The Line Up with Alex Dale
The Thirst Gamay is best served chilled. Yes, it is acceptable to chill red wine, especially this one. On a hot summer’s day or balmy evening, when you are craving red wine but can’t bear to open one because you know it will be too much, too heavy, the Thirst Gamay is a very good option. Certainly the Thirst Gamay is fine on its own to sip before dinner, or to bring along on a picnic, but it is also suited for main course meals. You’d think it was intentionally designed for salmon, as it goes so well with it. Thirst Gamay is not a frivolous wine given its light body and low-alcohol. As Alex likes to suggest it is meant for wine consumers who are looking for a naturally produced wine with little intervention. He also points out that a wine like Thirst is difficult to make both from the standpoint of production as well as the costs associated. I’m grateful Radford Dale makes the effort.
Alex Dale & David Netzer @ TWH
I was finally able to spend a few days up at the River like I’d been hoping to do for some time. What made this trip nourishing and special was the convergence of three families under the guise of a wedding shower. Surrounded by this tribe, as we like to call ourselves, is where I am happiest! We don’t see each other often enough, but when we do, it’s like we’d never left each other’s side. Oh, and I discovered that my brother isn’t the only family member who reads my newsletters – thanks TH for reading to the end!– Anya Balistreri
Granbázan Albariño Etiqueta Ámbar
Blank is the new blank, i.e. gochujang is the new sriracha, or poke is the new ceviche. You get the idea. Statements like these are everywhere, especially where wine is concerned. Allow me to give it a go – Albariño is the new … Sancerre. Albariño is a fresh, mineral-driven white wine full of attack just like Sancerre. And “Albariño” is fun to say just like “Sancerre”. But these types of statements can only go so far, so let’s dispense with the nonsense! Albariño is the name of a grape variety. In its native Spain (though Portugal can claim it as its own too), the grape is grown along the north Atlantic edge in the province of Galicia. In the early ’80s the appellation was named Albariño but was changed to Rias Baixas when Spain entered the EU (EU wine laws did not recognize DOs named after grape varieties). Almost all wine from Rias Baixas is white and of that most is made from Albariño.
A leader in advancing quality to the region, Granbazán was established in 1980 and today is spearheaded by the founder’s nephew, Jesús Álvarez Otero. The winery sits within the sub-zone of Val do Salnés, which is considered by many to be the best area for growing mineral-driven Albariño. The soils are mostly granitic. It is the wettest and coolest climate of any Rias Baixas subzone with an average annual temperature of only 55ºF. The gently sloping vineyards are susceptible to the maritime influence of the Atlantic, so the tradition is to grow grapes on pergolas. The pergolas can be as high as 7 feet and when the grapes ripen they are harvested by folks who stand on wine bins to reach the fruit. The visual effect of people walking beneath the green canopy of the grapes is extraordinarily beautiful, but it serves a purpose for the grapes. As the grapes grow high above the ground, air flows beneath preventing mildew and promoting even ripening. It amuses me to no end to see how inventive we can be when it comes to viticulture – wine will be made!
Granbazán makes a few types of Albariño. The Etiqueta Ámbar, my favorite, comes from their oldest vines which are 30+ years old. Only the free-run juice is used. The wine ages on the lees for about six months, giving the wine an exotic roundness and attractive softness to the finish. The intensity of the fruit flavors remind me of how free-run juice sets apart Montenidoli’s Vernaccia Fiore from their other Vernaccias. The combination of the free-run juice and lees aging, while it doesn’t take away from the inherent minerality of Albariño, does enhance the overall texture of the wine.
Its been two weeks since school let out and somehow my family is feeling more tired than ever. My husband, a physical education teacher, runs a summer sports camp for kids. My daughter goes to camp with him and is one of his “counselors in training”. It’s a lot of work for my husband and a lot of fun for my daughter. They both come home exhausted. We’re due for a quick jaunt up north to the family dacha. That bottle of 2014 Granbazán Etiqueta Ámbar chilling in my fridge should come along too. After a day of swimming and sunning, some grilled shrimp and Albariño should cap off the day perfectly. Gotta make it happen! – Anya Balistreri
The Derivative from Carlisle
I like to boast about the fact that The Wine House started carrying Carlisle wines from the very first vintage when Mike Officer, then a customer of ours with a taste for Rhônes, began making small lots of Zinfandel. Eighteen vintages later, we continue to still stock Carlisle wines only now their repertoire has expanded to include several single-vineyard and appellation-designated Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah (to name a few) and of late, white wine too. The 2013 The Derivative is a complex blend of several white grape varietals from multiple vineyard keeping in line with Carlisle’s zeal for sourcing old-vine fruit.
Semillon at Monte Rosso Vineyard
The base of the wine is Semillon, about half of the blend, from the famed and historic Monte Rosso Vineyard. Monte Rosso Vineyard is named for its rich, red volcanic soils and lies on the last high flank of the Mayacamas Range. The Semillon grown here was first planted in 1890. To this Mike adds Muscadelle from three different vineyards, and Colombard from Mancini Ranch. At the corner of Piner and Olivet Roads just west of Santa Rosa, Mancini Ranch was planted by Lucca Mancini in 1922. The Colombard adds a significant acid component, adding lift and zip to the wine. Only the Semillon was fermented in oak and of that, only 20% was new. The rest of the grapes were fermented in tank. Phew, that was a lot of information I realize, but I find it interesting to know how the pieces fit together to make a harmonious, complex wine. The wine is golden-hued with honey, grapefruit and beeswax notes. It has firm structure and the acid is notable and pleasant.
On a recent Monday morning, Peter said to me “guess what I drank yesterday?”. I of course had no idea, but my best guess was “Bordeaux”. Nope, he drank a glass of The Derivative with Sunday lunch at a restaurant. I hadn’t tasted it yet, so I asked what he thought of it. He told me he liked it very much and that it reminded him of White Bordeaux. Hmmm…that sounded intriguing to me. The winery notes on The Derivative specifically suggest that fans of White Bordeaux would find this wine “right up your ally”. I have to admit that when I took the wine home to try for myself, because of the percentage of Semillon, I had in mind a much different flavor profile. I expected it to be oily and round, but what I tasted was far more stealth and lively … like White Bordeaux. The grapefruit and spearmint flavors are followed by a slight oxidative note reminding me of the bottles of 1998 Domaine de Chevalier I polished off just a while back. In flavor and in structure, this wine suggests it will age quite comfortably. I would be curious to know how this wine evolves over time. For right now though, it is pretty delicious.
I siphoned off a bit of The Derivative into a vial to share with the guys at the store. I served them a taste blind just to make it more interesting. Chris, David and Pete liked it immediately and with some deductive reasoning, Pete recognized the wine as being the one he had at Sunday lunch. Chris remarked that he wished he could taste the wine with food, thinking that it would perhaps show differently. I got excited by his comment because I knew it to be true. As the cliché goes, The Derivative is a food wine. The Derivative takes on a much broader flavor spectrum with food and its acidity cradles rich, creamy flavors to higher heights. I write this because I know – at home the glass I tried became far more opulent and showy when I drank it with my dinner.
2013 The Derivative
Over the last eighteen vintages, I have witnessed the evolution of a winery go from a small unknown to one widely recognized as being one of the finest producers in California. An online wine forum that I follow from time to time – they claim to be “The World’s Largest and Most Active Online Wine Community”- even has a thread that reads “Which Carlisle are you drinking”? The thread has over 6,000 posts. Not just any winery can command that much interest and devotion.
School’s out for Summer! Alice Cooper’s lyric looped inside my head as I drove my daughter to her last day of 6th grade. I think I may be more excited than she is about the start of summer. I am hoping to slow down the pace, go outside, explore. As someone wisely said in a movie I watched with my daughter (her choice) last weekend, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Anya Balistreri
Poco a Poco Zinfandel
Zinfandel reached American shores approximately 200 years ago. Soon after arriving, Zinfandel travelled west to California where it flourished, achieved success and has become so respected and adored that it is now commonly accepted to refer to it as America’s grape. A true American wine tale. I understood its allure early in my wine life. Zinfandel makes a wine that is easy to grasp and appreciate. The flavors are bold and forward; the pleasure is immediate. For me the connection is Zinfandel + Russian River = family + summer + good times. That’s why to mark the unofficial start of summer, a bottle of Zinfandel will trek up north with me to the family dacha this weekend. What will I be toting along? Poco a Poco’s 2014 Russian River Zinfandel.
Winemaker Luke Bass
Poco a Poco is a line of wines made by Luke Bass of Porter Bass Vineyards. Luke sources organic grapes along with his own biodynamically grown grapes to make easy, immediately accessible, well-crafted wine at more than fair prices. Thinking about this now, I can’t really come up with too many other producers who are deliberately using grapes of this quality to make value-priced wine on a small scale. Maybe there is no glory in it or probably the economics don’t play out well enough. All this means is that this wine buyer spends a lot of time combing through offers, meeting with vendors and keeping her eyes and ears open to who’s doing what to find such a gem.
Luke and Son on tractor
The 2014 Zinfandel is sourced from the Forchini family that owns a 24 acre vineyard 1/2 mile east of the Russian River just south of Limerick Lane. The vineyard is farmed organically. Luke, as he does with all his wine, approaches winemaking by celebrating the grape. For this Zinfandel, he fermented the grapes with native yeast and aged the wine in neutral French oak. Pretty straightforward, if you ask me. The resulting wine captures the zesty berry burst of Zinfandel allowing the tanginess of the fruit to emerge. Not soupy or marred by oak notes, this is a resoundingly bright natured Zinfandel. The inherent acidity will play nicely at the table, especially with bold-flavored grilled fare and won’t shy away from American barbecue.
I called my mom to find out what was on the menu for the family get-together dinner. She said “the usual Zaharoff cook-out…Bulgogi, rice, fresh cabbage salad, bean sprouts salad and a bunch of other stuff”. For years growing up I thought the classic Korean Bulgogi was actually a Russian dish. It is not a far stretch to imagine how a Russian immigrant family came to adopt classic Korean dishes as their own and turning it into their American tradition, serving it on National Holidays at family gatherings. I am excited to see how the Poco a Poco Zinfandel will soak up the savory flavors of the rum-marinated beef and sesame seed oil seasoned salads. I think its going to be a sensational pairing. And yes, Kon, I really am bringing a bottle of this wine to the River! – Anya Balistreri
Domaine de Fondrèche Ventoux Rouge
Hands down, the most important producer in the Ventoux, Domaine de Fondrèche continues to evolve – adjusting, experimenting, remaining dynamic. From the start, I’ve been drawn to winemaker Sébastien Vicenti’s wines for they encompass deep fruit expression with captivating spice and herb notes. Success and accolades haven’t stifled Sébastien’s drive to make the finest wine possible. Not at all. For the 2013 vintage, and going forward, the winery will no longer be making their special cuvée, Nadal. Nadal, a Grenache-based blend, garnered high scores and was one of my all-time favorite Rhône reds carried at TWH. So where is all that old-vine Grenache going to go? My guess is that it all went into the 2013 Ventoux and is possibly the reason why this vintage is so incredibly dense and chewy. I should be more upset that my beloved Nadal is no more, but the sting of that loss is easily mitigated by the impressive bottling of the 2013 Ventoux.
Bobby Kacher with Sèbastien
Another change at the winery, but one of less consequence than the demise of Nadal, is that their Ventoux rouge has dropped the name “Fayard”. So henceforth, I’ll be calling Fondrèche’s basic red, the Ventoux rouge. The 2013 Ventoux rouge is half Grenache, 40% Syrah and the balance, Mourvèdre. Sébastien Vicenti is a strict practitioner of organic farming, and though is not certified as such, closely follows the principles of biodynamic farming. In interviews, Sébastien emphasizes the connection between the natural harmony of the land and soil to the grapes. His credo in the vineyard carries over into the winery, where he strives to do “less” to attain “more” from the grapes. The 2013 Ventoux rouge is aged in a combination of egg-shaped concrete tanks, barrels and Foudres. This makes for a very texturally rich and engaging wine. The French publication, Le Guide Hachette des Vins, described it as “chewable”, noting its generous palate as round and silky. The Le Guide Hachetteeven bestowed a coveted “Coup de Coeur”, suggesting it is a wine worthy to investigate, irrespective of price. Good newshere as it relates to price is the 2013 Ventoux rouge is $16.99 per bottle, getting down to $14.44 when purchased by the case or as part of a mixed one! A stunning bargain!
Domaine de Fondrèche
All this gushing over the wine does come with a recommendation and it is this: Be prepared to decant. In Sébastien’s effort to control the freshness of the grapes, the resulting wine is in need of oxygen to release its full potential. Can you pop the cork, pour a glass straight out of the bottle and enjoy it? Sure, that is perfectly acceptable, but I want to suggest getting the wine some air to really set off the bevy of sweet spices and licorice notes you get on the nose. It is one of those wines that can be enjoyed one glass at a time over the course of several days from the bottle. It won’t fall apart quickly.
Second Growth, baby!
Some weeks are good “food” weeks and other are good “wine” weeks. For me, this week was both. It began last Saturday night when my husband and I went to La Folie. The dinner was my Valentine Day’s present. Flowers and jewelry are good choices, but so is a fine meal! It was our first time at La Folie and, though I don’t normally do so, I brought along a special bottle of wine – 2000 Puligny Montrachet Les Combettes from Etienne Sauzet (Thank you to my Fairy Wine-Father!). We dined for nearly 4 hours! A tear ran down my face as the last sweet amuse bouche was served. On Tuesday I attended an Italian wine tasting hosted at Acquerello. Typically at trade tastings some cheese and bread may be offered, but this being an Italian restaurant, there were also platters of salumi and olives, while small plates with either penne al sugo or truffled risotto were passed. I returned to the store in time to taste through some Bordeaux that a visiting Négociant was pouring for Pete and David. We tasted multiple vintages of Brane Cantenac, Nenin and…Leoville Las Cases! Wipe me off the floor! AND at a staff tasting I got to try the 2013 Ventoux rouge from Fondrèche. OK, I’ll stop, though I could go on. Yep, a very good food and wine week.
When you search on the internet for Riserva Naturale Monte Genuardo, the results are entries written in Italian, nothing pops up in English. Talk about “off the beaten path”. Nestled near this protected land is where you will find the vineyards belonging to Di Giovanna. Located approximately 42 miles southwest of Palermo, on the side of the triangle that faces the Mediterranean, Di Giovanna occupies an unique location and history for Sicilian wine production. It is a special winery that pushes for quality while offering the wines at market for a very fair price. Di Giovanna wines over deliver for price.
Klaus and Gunther Di Giovanna
I first met Gunther Di Giovanna three years ago. Yes, Gunther. Not your typical Sicilian name! His Sicilian father Aurelio married German-born Barbara, hence the name. Gunther’s brother, Klaus, partners with him to manage production from the vineyards to the wine cellar. I liked the wines then and brought in the Nerello Mascalese to stock at The Wine House. Very soon after, their American importer ceased operating in California, so I was no longer able to buy it for the store. Back in the California market, Gunther paid me a visit to present their new wines. I could readily detect an even finer quality to the wines than before.
Di Giovanna Vineyards
Though wine production at Di Giovanna can be traced back to 1860, it was 1985 when Aurelio and Barbara decided to make a serious go at making fine wine on their family’s estate. There was much work done in the vineyards to identify soils and microclimates. Aurelio hired friend and famed Bordeaux oenologist Denis Dubourdieu to consult at the estate. The Di Giovannas were intent on making the best possible wine, bucking common Sicilian wine practices of the time that favored higher yields and bulk production. Gunther and Klaus inherited their parents’ strong commitment and appreciation for their land and winery. During my conversation with Gunther, I learned that he spent many years working in corporate business on mainland Italy and Germany before returning to Sicily to work at Di Giovanna. He tells me that now he is never tired. His work at the winery energizes and inspires him, bringing joy every day.
Another view of Di Giovanna
I have included photos that I borrowed from Di Giovanna’s Facebook page. As you can see, the winery is remote, far from civilization. You don’t see other wineries – there aren’t any but Di Giovanna – nor towns or many homes. The elevation of the five main vineyards range from 1100 to 2800 hundred feet! Their immediate surroundings are pristine. The winery has traditionally farmed organically, but became certified organic in 1997. It is indeed a special place.
My collection of Pysanky
I celebrated Eastern Orthodox Easter May 1. My family and friends (it was a small crowd with only 31 in attendance) gathered at the River on the deck to feast on Russian delicacies and some non-traditional, but revered, dishes. It was a glorious day as the weather was warm, the freshness of spring was in the air and the company convivial. Everyone was exactly where they wanted to be and it felt good. I live for those moments; it makes everything else worth it. I suspect Gunther and Klaus have similar moments at their family’s estate tucked high above Sambuca di Sicilia. Life is bedda!
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