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
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
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
2014 Cannonau di Sardegna
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