Category Archives: Anya Balistreri

Alsatian Auxerrois – Say That Five Times Fast!


 

2014 Pinot Auxerrois From Saint-Rémy

What is Pinot Auxerrois? Pinot Auxerrois is a grape that is planted extensively throughout the Alsatian region of France. It is not always labelled as such as it is legal under AOC Alsace appellation laws to label it under the more commonly recognized Pinot Blanc. Many people will explain that Auxerrois is a clone of Pinot Blanc but that is not accurate. In fact Pinot Auxerrois is an offspring of Pinot Blanc, which is a white-berried mutation of Pinot Noir, and is a sibling to Chardonnay, Aligote and Melon de Bourgogne. Pinot Auxerrois has smaller berries than Pinot Blanc so then when yields are limited, a truly interesting wine can be made like the 2014 Pinot Auxerrois from Domaine Saint-Rémy.

Saint-Rémy’s bottling of Pinot Auxerrois comes from the single-vineyard, Val St. Gregoire. Val St. Gregoire is close to Grand Cru Brand, has southern exposure and the soils are more granitic. I remember when Philippe Ehrhart, proprietor of Domaine Saint-Rémy, visited us at the store in the summer of ’14 and explained these facts. He also made a point of saying that at Saint-Rémy they do not use commercial yeasts, and give a very gentle pressing to the grapes to get pure, clean juice. The Pinot Auxerrois stays on the lees for 6-8 months before bottling. The Ehrharts have taken their centuries old domaine to new heights by converting to organic farming. They became certified organic in 2010 and certified biodynamic in 2012. Phillipe and family are strong advocates of this movement in their region. This fastidious stewardship of the land is rooted in tradition but is also a very real solution to climactic and ecological threats.

As I mentioned above, Pinot Auxerrois has smaller berries than Pinot Blanc with a higher skin to juice ratio so when made well there is good structure, fruit and acidity. Both Pinot Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc can get flabby (true for most of us!) if not taken care of properly. I find the Saint-Rémy Pinot Auxerrois to have plenty of fruit flavors – peach, apricot – a nice bitter tinge and freshness to the finish. This combination makes it delicious to enjoy by the glass sans food or easily adaptable to appetizers. I was particularly impressed at how well it went with my usual Friday Night Fish Fry of baked sole. Typically I reach for something with a leaner fruit profile, but the wine carried the dish beautifully without overpowering it. I’d say go ahead and serve this with poultry and light pork dishes too. It is really quite versatile.

I’ve survived a full month of back to school scheduling. Twice I’ve forgotten it was my turn in the carpool to do “drop-off”. In a moment of panic, my daughter is surprising compliant at jumping in the car with a hastily clad mother. My husband has been cracking himself up by reenacting my reaction when I finally figure out that they are not the ones late…I am! So when Friday rolls around, and I finally have a moment to myself, you might find me on the front porch with a glass in hand. This week the 2014 Pinot Auxerrois Val St. Gregoire was a lovely reward to a busy week. The golden, honeyed fruit mirrored the soft hues of the autumn sun’s rays. Aahh, the restorative nature of wine!– Anya Balistreri

Leave a comment

Filed under Alsace, Anya Balistreri, fish-fry wine

True Extreme Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – Fort Ross

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery
Back in the early years at TWH’s tenure on Carolina Street, a woman with long black curly hair walked in to our store, introduced herself and proceeded to ask a lot of questions about our business – who we were and what we did. Her South African accent beckoned John Carpenter out of his office, who before opening The Wine House had lived and taught for two years in Johannesberg during the early 70’s. They hit it off right away as this woman, Linda, was a whirlwind of energy with many interests. The upshot of the encounter was that Linda and her husband had planted a vineyard and were planning to make wine. She promised to come back to the store when they finally had it bottled.

all photos courtesy of the winery

This Linda that we met at The Wine House turned out to be Linda Schwartz of Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery, who with her husband Lester, purchased 976 acres of coastal land just north of where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean in 1988. Rather than hire people out to do the work, the Schwartz’s decided to become the experts themselves. Linda enrolled in viticulture courses and soon discovered yet another talent. In 1991 they began the first stages of their vineyard project by planting a test vineyard with an assortment of various trellis systems, varietals, clones and rootstocks, to learn what grew best in this extremely cool/high elevation climate. By 1994 they knew they needed to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and then took the next 10 years to plant nearly 55 acres.

Though Linda and Lester are involved in all aspects of the winery, to help them with the arduous task of making wine from this challenging terrain, they hired a winemaker. In 2009 they met and hired renowned winemaker Jeff Pisoni. This collaboration has propelled the winery further towards excellence as the latest releases from Fort Ross are stunning and quite frankly, right up my alley as far as domestic Pinot Noir is concerned. For my taste, the fruit is present and deep, but notably restrained vis á vis most Sonoma Pinot Noirs and the structure is firm yet silky. It all comes down to the vineyard, and there is little doubt that the one the Lesters planted is quite exceptional. Fort Ross Vineyard lies at elevations between 1200 to 1700 feet and is said to be the closest to the Pacific Ocean; about a mile away as the crow flies. Anyone who has ever driven along Highway 1 in these parts knows how blustery and cold it can be even when temperatures are spiking 10 miles inland. The vineyard pops up above the fog line and is able to produce ripe grapes despite the coastal weather.

There are two wines from Fort Ross that we’re offering: 2013 Pinot Noir Sea Slopes and 2012 Pinot Noir Symposium. The Sea Slopes is blended for earlier release from various clonal selections and is aged in 100% French Oak of which only 10% is new. The grapes are hand-harvested at night before the pre-dawn light. A colleague of mine worked harvest at Fort Ross last year. He told me they picked in the dark with lights on their heads, just like a miner, from 2 to 9 am picking bunch by bunch…back breaking work! The Symposium is a darker, more brooding wine, with pronounced black fruit flavors and warm spice notes. The kicker here is the inclusion of 4% Pinotage. I don’t believe anyone could actually pull out flavors of Pinotage from the wine, but clearly it adds something to it.

The long Holiday weekend will find me enjoying family time not too far away from Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery up at the family dacha. September is my favorite time of year at the beach on the River; the riff raff is mostly gone and the sun’s rays are more golden and gently warming. The Redwoods have begun to drop their needles and our heritage pear tree is ready to ripen all at once. According to my Instagram feed, grape harvest is in full swing all over California. Fort Ross is probably getting close, but out along the coast, harvest comes mid to late September. There is a lot of excitement out there as winemakers are thankful for August’s cooler than usual yet sunny days. Here’s to their good and successful labor! Anya Balistreri

1 Comment

Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

Bestselling Sardinian Red Back In Stock – 2014 Sanguineti Cannonau di Sardegna


2014 Cannonau di Sardegna
Antonio Sanguineti
The new vintage of Sanguineti’s Cannonau di Sardegna has finally arrived at the store! The response to last year’s offer was so enthusiastic, we made sure to double up on quantities. That said, once it’s gone, it’ll be gone until the next vintage as we have only one shot at ordering this wine. The introductory 2013 vintage was delicious and I predicted it would probably end up being winemaker’s Antonio Sanguineti’s most successful offering. Sure enough, I was right. Antonio upped his production by securing more grapes from his friends on the island, those same friends for whom he works for as a consultant. So to those who bought the 2013 and loved it, I am confident the 2014 will not disappoint. As a whole, 2014 was a difficult vintage for red wines in Italy, especially in northern appellations where August rains caused havoc. However, these unfavorable weather conditions did not reach as far south as Sardinia and Sicily, where in fact the vintage is considered excellent.


Antonio in the forefront

Cannonau is the most widely planted red grape on Sardinia. The common belief is that Cannonau is the same grape as Spain’s Garnacha, though some purists and ampelographers aren’t so sure. After reading a lengthy article laying out a scientific argument for whether or not Cannonau and Garnacha are the same grape, I concluded that for most of the wine drinking population – who cares? What is important to note is that there is commonality in flavor profile between them and so it’s natural to recommend a Cannonau di Sardegna to anyone who is an enthusiast of southern red Rhônes and Spanish Garnacha or visa versa. Though I’ve heard from our customers on more than one occasion that for their palate, Cannonau di Sardegna is far more interesting and pleasurable than most Grenache they’ve tried. Again Mother Nature shows us that something planted here does not taste the same when planted over there – one of the many reasons why I find wine endlessly interesting.

Stocked and ready for purchase

Antonio sources his Cannonau grapes near the seaside town of Villesimius which sits along the southeastern tip of the island. Unoaked, this red is jam-packed with dusty berry flavors buoyed up by a complementary thread of acidity that keeps the flavors popping. The aromas are a mix of fresh and faded berry notes and some dried herb. Overall it has a smooth presence on the palate, making it pleasurable sipping on its own, though at the table is where it really sings. This is not a monster red, but it will stand up to beef and lamb. Fire up the grill!

This is how we do Paella! (no relevance to this newsletter)

School started for my daughter this week. It was a bit of a shock getting up so early for all of us except for the dog who remained snoozing in his bed. It probably wouldn’t have been as painful for me if I hadn’t stayed up so late watching the Olympics. It was well worth it. School might have started but summer is not over yet! I’ve got at least until after Labor Day, right? So far, this summer has been wonderful. Far less stressful than the last couple of summers and filled with family gatherings, visits with friends and excursions around Northern California. This weekend I’m going to lay low and catch up with household chores (mostly filling out and signing paperwork for school). A trip to the Farmer’s Market is a must as it’s SHOWTIME there with summer’s harvest in full swing. I’ll probably end up buying way too many tomatoes (not really, not possible!), squash and fruit. My husband will be grilling something on the Weber and the 2014 Cannonau di Sardegna from Sanguineti will be in my glass. Cheers to an endless summer!– Anya Balistreri

Leave a comment

Filed under Anya Balistreri, Cannonau, Grenache, Italy, Sardegna

2014 Bedrock Zinfandel

“The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco” is famously attributed to Mark Twain, yet there is no evidence he ever wrote or muttered these words. Nonetheless, the quote holds true. San Francisco has been blanketed by a deep and chilling marine layer. It’s Summer in the City! Driving to the store this morning, I had to turn on my windshield wipers just as I passed through the Robin Williams Tunnel and could see the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh, how I love this view!

Pagani Ranch

Shifting over to wine, there happens to be a winemaker, also named Twain, or more accurately, Morgan TWAIN Peterson, who has been delivering some of the finest Zinfandel in the state. I’ve been singing his praises from his very first vintage, and like a proud mother (Morgan and my daughter happen to share the same birthday – how sweet is that!), have been telling anyone who would listen to try his Bedrock Wine Co. wines. The series of wines he makes from old vine, field blend vineyards are not just delicious but are a way of honoring these historic sites. Regrettably, the economics of producing wine has all too often led folks to rip out old vineyards containing Zinfandel, and who knows what else, that were planted by immigrants wanting to create a taste of home. Morgan has worked diligently to identify, restore and preserve these sites by founding the Historic Vineyard Society.

2014 Old Vine Zinfandel

Lucky for us, Morgan makes an Old Vine Zinfandel that is on par with his heritage vineyard wines in quality, but is more budget friendly. Morgan writes that the Old Vine Zinfandel is “perhaps the most important wine we make” because there is more of it than the limited production and highly allocated, single-vineyard Zinfandels, and therefore acts as an introduction to the winery. The Old Vine Zinfandel is also “an invaluable tool” because a few of the vineyards that go into this cuveé were neglected, old vineyards that Morgan has nursed back to life that are not quite ready for individual designation. The multiple vineyard sources that go into the 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel include Bedrock, Papera and Pagani Ranch. Aged in French oak barrels, the 2014 Old Vine is a tremendous value for full-throttle, well-balanced Zinfandel. Though I think most people will end up drinking this wine sooner than later, Morgan writes that he is pretty convinced “that it will age gracefully for over a decade”.
Naked Ladies along the fence

Without looking at a calendar, I know August has arrived. The night-filling sound of chirping crickets that lull me to sleep is my first clue. The second clue are the naked ladies that line up along my driveway. Naked ladies? Yes, naked ladies, aka Belladonna Amaryllis, those gorgeous, lightly-scented pink flowers that erupt from the ground, unadorned by foliage. And the third clue is the market arrival of my favorite apples, Gravensteins – tangy, sweet and crunchy! I’ll be heading north this weekend to escape the marine layer and get a little wine country action under my belt. For Sunday’s dinner on the deck, I am contemplating grilled tri tip with the 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel. Now doesn’t that sound like a proper summer meal! – Anya Balistreri

1 Comment

Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, California, Zinfandel

Sancerre For Summer Sippin’ – 2014 Philippe Raimbault’s Les Godons

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Anya Balistreri, fish-fry wine, Loire Valley, Sancerre

Get Your Geek On – Gamay From South Africa


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

Leave a comment

Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Berg River, Gamay, South Africa, Swartland

Galician Albarino from Granbazan


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

Leave a comment

Filed under Albarino, Anya Balistreri, Rias Baixas