Artisan Vignerons – In Defense of Prices

by Anthony Lynch

We take pride in the bargains in our portfolio, but from time to time we cannot resist buying wines that some people would deem expensive. Our intention is not to gouge or cheat; in fact, we regret that something like wine, a product of the earth whose purpose is to unify and provide indiscriminate pleasure to all regardless of creed, color, and class, can be inaccessible by virtue of price or rarity. But rest assured that in most cases, the vigneron in question is not living a glamorous lifestyle with fancy cars and diamond rings.

Certain wines, like grand cru Burgundies and classified Bordeaux growths, are expected to demand a very high price—after all, these have long been considered to be among the most prestigious bottles in the world. Given that vineyard land for grand cru Burgundy sells for almost $2 million per acre, the price tag on these wines might begin to make sense. But what is the justification for the steep cost of wines from places where the cost of land is more humane, such as the Languedoc, Veneto, or Corsica? Or even Bandol, where a prized terroir is selling for about $65,000 per acre?

In rural areas of France and Italy, many vignerons live entirely off of a very modestly sized plot of land—some as little as two hectares (five acres). Those with whom we have chosen to collaborate are fully committed to crafting the best wine possible, which comes with its share of economic sacrifices. They eschew chemical products in the vineyard in favor of full-time salaried workers. A hired team picks grapes over the course of weeks instead of the violent, albeit speedy, job of a mechanical harvester. The search for complexity and concentration often results in very low yields—sometimes from ancient, unproductive vines—so while the cost of land may not be as high as in Burgundy, the resulting volumes produced are barely sufficient to support a family.

© Gail Skoff

Working such small plots of land completely by hand entails high costs of production, so artisanal vignerons must charge what they need in order to get by. These micro-productions represent their entire livelihood, and you can bet they are not living large: many resort to canning their own food and curing meats for cost-effective (and delicious) solutions to supporting their family through a given year. While it pains us to know that the shelf price of such wines makes them out of reach for numerous consumers, we take comfort in knowing a dedicated and honest farmer is subsisting off his or her labor. Just as we have come to expect to pay more for top-quality organic farmers’ market produce, these hand-crafted, sustainably farmed wines from small-scale artisans also demand a premium. We hope you keep this in mind the next time you are browsing our store shelves.

Humble Wines

by Dustin Soiseth

Last fall, a few days before a big portfolio tasting, my colleagues and I got together to go over the featured wines and decide who would pour what. There were some big names in the lineup and serious negotiations ensued as we angled to pour the most prestigious wines. I mostly avoided the fray though, because I only had eyes for a humble Aligoté. Why so excited about the “other” white grape of Burgundy? Because it is made by Arnaud Ente, and it is better than many comparably-priced Meursaults or Puligny-Montrachets.

By now, my clients are probably tired of hearing me say that entry-level wines from great Burgundy producers usually over-deliver. Yet whenever I taste through the selections from a top domaine like Méo-Camuzet or Chevillon, I always end up feeling like it’s the best advice I can give them. Like Ente’s electric Aligoté, these entry-level wines often carry the basic Bourgogne AOC label, yet are still made with the same care and attention to detail as the more expensive cuvées. What they lack in prestige, they more than make up for in QPR.

Purchasing a few bottles of Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc instead of one or two pricier bottles maximizes my modest wine budget. That way, I have several bottles from Chevillon, Bruno Colin, Méo-Camuzet, or Lucien Boillot in my cellar instead of just one or two, and I get to enjoy them at several points in their evolution without having to fret about finding the perfect moment to pull the cork.

Of course I’d love to have a cellar full of premier cru and grand cru Burgundies, but that’s just not going to happen right now, and that’s fine because at the end of the day, these Bourgognes fit my hectic, kid-centric life. They have personality, a sense of place, and excel at the table. They don’t require a special occasion to be properly enjoyed, yet can make any occasion a bit more special.

Dustin’s Favorite “Humble” Burgundies

2014 Bourgogne Blanc • Bruno Colin $34
(available in the Berkeley shop)
The Blanc sees the same élevage as his premier cru whites, and is full of pure, chalky Chardonnay fruit.

2014 Bourgogne Aligoté • Arnaud Ente $75
(available online and in the Berkeley shop)
While certainly not cheap, it’s less than half the price of his sought-after Meursault and is vinified in the same manner.

2014 Bourgogne Rouge • Bruno Colin $29
(available in the Berkeley shop)
Bruno’s rouge is a blend of parcels in Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay, and always has a hearty peasant rusticity.

2014 Bourgogne Rouge • Lucien Boillot & Fils $35
(available online and in the Berkeley shop)
Full and structured, this is a blend of fruit from Volnay and Gevrey-Chambertin that takes a year or two to unfurl.

2014 Bourgogne Rouge • Méo-Camuzet $39
(available in the Berkeley shop)
Definitely the most silky and sensual Pinot of the lineup. This really starts to roll after a few years in bottle.  Only 2 cs left.

2014 Bourgogne Rouge • Robert Chevillon $47
(available in the Berkeley shop)
Consistently elegant, with the exotic, spicy nose found in the domaine’s top bottlings.

Call 510.524.1524 or Email Dustin >

February Newsletter: Verdicchio at its Finest, 2015 Colin Pre-Arrival, Introducing Luigi Gregoletto, Artisan Vignerons

The February Newsletter is now available.

Click here to download the pdf.

Highlights from this month’s newsletter…

WHITE BEFORE RED

DOMAINE DE LA CADETTE

by Emily Spillmann

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” –Aristotle

2015 BOURGOGNE VÉZELAY
“LA CHÂTELAINE” >

Taking pleasure not only in the finished wines but also in the hard work that goes into making them so good is a common thread among our producers. No one better exemplifies that than Valentin Montanet, the fun-loving, down-to-earth—and freakishly intelligent—vigneron from Vézelay. He’s the kind of guy you feel you’ve known for years, probably because he skips small talk in favor of candid winegrowing observations. Like him, his wines have too much to say to bother with chitchat. Take the 2015 Bourgogne Vézelay, for starters. (Actually, it would be perfect with starters.) The nose is so fresh, the palate so pure, and the finish so clean that one sip leads effortlessly to another, and another until you’ll be eager to open a red of equal promise.

$28.00 per bottle $302.40 per case

2015 BOURGOGNE ROUGE “CHAMPS CADET” >

As luck would have it, Valentin has just the thing, although you need to act quickly because there won’t be much of it in the coming months. Northwest Burgundy, like the Côte d’Or, was hit hard by frost and hail last year, making this 2015 Champs Cadet the last of our stock from a normal-sized harvest. (Eternally optimistic and with typical craftiness, Valentin responded to nature’s blow by expanding his négoce project, La Soeur Cadette—but more on that in a future newsletter.) Partially whole-cluster-fermented, aged in neutral oak, and bottled unfiltered, this expressive, fruit-forward Bourgogne rouge is quite simply flawless: a true testament to the pleasure Valentin derives from his work.

$32.00 per bottle $345.60 per case

MONTE BIANCO

by Chris Santini

For decades, Jean-Charles Abbatucci could see from a window of the family home a steep, barren slope. In this remote corner of deep-country Corsica, where the climate may be hot and dry, the rolling hills are nonetheless covered with abundant green shrub and native grasses—so much so that this slope stood out like a sore thumb, a blemish. Not a blade of grass, not a single plant would grow there. Too much granite and too poor a soil? Too much erosion? No one really knew. Over time, the family gave the white, rocky slope the moniker Monte Bianco, which in Corsican means “white hill,” and viewed it as a bit of a challenge. Jean-Charles’s father tried in vain to plant various vines on various rootstocks on the slope. Nothing took, not even for a single season. Years later, when Jean-Charles took over, he was eager to prove his capability and promptly planted the hill once again, only to watch his vines shrivel and die, just as his father’s had. The Monte Bianco was deemed untamable, and the project was shelved.

Fast-forward fifteen years, during which time Abbatucci has painstakingly implemented and developed biodynamic agriculture to a whole new level on his estate. The methods are applied not only to vines but to all the flora and fauna, every inch and every aspect of the domaine being imbued in the process. Farmers and vignerons near and far regularly make pilgrimage to Abbatucci to witness all this for themselves.

So to come back to our impossible slope here, Abbatucci decided to give it one last try, this time with full biodynamic accoutrement. Amazingly, it took. It didn’t simply take, it thrived. Within a few years, the “white hill” was awash in vigorous vines, green grass and shrubs between the rows. The Monte Bianco had finally found harmony with its surroundings. Jean-Charles insists that this success is the indisputable evidence of the potential and power of biodynamics. I would go one step further and say that it also provides indisputable evidence of the otherworldly taste biodynamic wines can bring. Traditional tasting notes cannot do justice to this wine. There’s something more here than simple tastes or sensations. Never in my life have I tasted a wine so alive, so light to the touch yet able to express so much. The Monte Bianco talks without speaking, and screams without raising its voice, as the old song notes. Sciaccarellu has never had so much to say, so take a listen.

2014 MONTE BIANCO ROUGE
DOMAINE COMTE ABBATUCCI >

$89.00 per bottle (Very limited quantities)

SOUTHERN VALUES

by Clark Z. Terry

2016 CORBIÈRES ROSÉ “GRIS DE GRIS”
DOMAINE DE FONTSAINTE >

Two whole months. That’s how long we’ve been sold out of the Fontsainte Gris de Gris rosé—nearly an eternity for some of our clients. But wine is not a widget. It’s a finely crafted agricultural product, and supply is dependent on the whims of nature. Though we’d like to have this wine available year-round, its selling out is a useful reminder that even our most widely available wines are hand-crafted and limited in production.

The 2016 Gris de Gris is delicate and lively, featuring light strawberry fruit and just a touch of Languedoc garrigue—refreshment restored, once again.

$14.95 per bottle $161.46 per case

2015 PAYS D’OC rouge “les traverses”
CHÂTEAU FONTANÈS >

When it comes to wine, Cyriaque Rozier is a serious man. He’s well traveled, his cellar is filled with wines from across France, and he’s the winemaker not only at his own domaine, Château Fontanès, but also at the famed Languedoc winery Château La Roque. He is studious in his craft and incredibly hardworking—a combination that year after year yields stunning results.

The Fontanès Cabernet Sauvignon bottling, from vines planted in the 1970s, is one of those rare “Top that!” wines. No, really—just try to find another Cabernet for under $15 that will bring you as much pleasure as this wine does.

$14.00 per bottle $151.20 per case

2015 VENTOUX ROUGE “MÉGAPHONE”
FRÉDÉRIC & DANIEL BRUNIER >

If beautiful wines come from beautiful places, then the Brunier family’s Mégaphone bottling might top our list of greatest values. The vineyard from which it is sourced is tucked away in a small canyon on the far side of the Dentelles from Gigondas, with contoured hills of vines, cypress trees that provide a bit of shade, and cigales chirping away throughout most of the summer. All that beauty translates to the wine—bright ruby fruit, just enough tannic grip, with a dose of black olive and a hint of rosemary.

$22.00 per bottle $237.60 per case

Antoine Arena’s Rosé

by Kermit Lynch

During 2016 I had the pleasure of going wine hunting in five satellites: Pays Basque, Catalonia, Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. I imagine them breaking the colonial chains that bind and forming a United Independent States for strength in numbers while controlling their own destinies. Corsica has been free only a handful of years during recorded history. And we think our political situation stinks?

Imagine, what if you were Corsican with a Roman name like Arena, and every move you made was controlled by French bureaucrats? Yikes, no, you wouldn’t dig it.

Speaking of Arena … I’m not sure why, but Antoine Arena’s 2015 rosé comes to mind. Antoine is the one who first showed the world how great Corsican wine can be. I tasted with him and his two sons this summer, and their rosé caught me by surprise, because they did everything right in the making of it, according to me. I’m sure you’ll see how different it is from the technological Provençal rosés that are so hip these days. For those interested: native yeasts, malo completed, gently bottled without filtration. Wow! Nor was it hurried into bottle to meet some arbitrary, springtime Rosé “Nouveau” release date.

Taste it alongside almost any Côtes-de-Provence rosé—it’s like comparing real wine with pink lace panties.

Antoine himself is so genuine, he is a favorite of everybody in the wine biz who has had the luck to spend time with him. He and his sons work together and sell the results under three separate Arena labels: Antoine, Jean-Baptiste, and Antoine-Marie. Please don’t ask me why. I asked them and ended up more puzzled than I had been. Just know that, yes, when you uncork one of their wines—this rosé, for example—you are in for an honest wine and a real treat.

 

 2015 PATRIMONIO ROSÉ  > 

ANTOINE ARENA 

     $32.00 per bottle $345.60 per case

 

2015 Cru Beaujolais

by Anthony Lynch

Look out, folks—2015 Beaujolais crus are now in stock! After an abnormally hot and dry summer last year, timely late-season rains restored balance to the grapes just before harvest. These wines make a statement—a deep, booming bellow beyond the habitual “Buvez-moi!” we have come to expect from the land of Gamay. Chock-full of ripe, palate-coating fruits, they have serious presence on the palate, but fear not: there is no shortage of pleasure here, so whether you plan on quaffing, pondering, or cellaring these reds, you can be sure 2015 has something in store for you.

The vineyards at Domaine Chignard

2015 MORGON “V.V.” • GUY BRETON >

Max Breton’s higher-altitude vineyards give a remarkably lively, ethereal expression of Morgon. This year is no exception, but you’ll have to slurp your way through a broad layer of plush, sexy fruits and flowers to access the refreshing core of minerals that lies buried beneath. Big and juicy with a gorgeous tannin, it will show its best after some aeration or decanting.

$34.00 per bottle $367.20 per case

2015 FLEURIE “LES MORIERS”
DOMAINE CHIGNARD >

Dense and voluptuous, Chignard’s Fleurie does not disappoint in 2015. Fruit, structure, and concentration are turned up a notch this vintage, but Cédric Chignard’s traditionalist methods have once again yielded a wine that transparently expresses its terroir, right on the border of Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent. It is pure velvet on the palate, with a spicy minerality jazzing up the elegant finish.

$26.00 per bottle $280.80 per case

2015 CÔTE-DE-BROUILLY • NICOLE CHANRION >

Tasting the new vintage with Nicole Chanrion is always a bit of a relief. Rather than going through dozens of tanks and barrels for a daylong affair, as with some growers, Nicole has just four ginormous foudres devoted to the new wine, only two of which were filled due to the vintage’s meager yields. I perfectly recall dipping my nose into my first sample of her 2015: what an intoxicating, jubilant, regal perfume! A fresh acidity and thick, chewy tannins give this Côte-de-Brouilly a mighty backbone that will certainly reward cellaring.

$22.00 per bottle $237.60 per case

Up Late with Verset’s Ghost

by Dustin Soiseth

It was about 2 a.m. the other night and I was in the kitchen heating up a bottle for my baby girl. There was a half-empty bottle of wine on the counter—the 2012 Barruol/Lynch Côte Rôtie “La Boisselée”—left over from an earlier tasting and I gave it a swirl while waiting for the water to boil. As I gave this “La Boisselée” the organoleptic once-over my thoughts drifted to the Cornas of Noël Verset, some older bottles of which I have had the good fortune to try. I admit it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison, but having never tasted the legendary Côte-Rôties of Marius Gentaz, my fatigued mind couldn’t help but to stray south to Cornas. Even though they are from different vintages and distinct terroirs, these wines are connected in a way that goes beyond simply “Northern Rhône Syrah”.

New Syrah with a nod to the past
© Dustin Soiseth

I was just getting into the wine business when Verset made his last vintage in 2006, and the bottles I’ve tried were simply magical—some of the greatest wines I’ve ever had. They are delicate, ethereal, almost baroque in texture. All the aromas and flavors are there before you, as if held in suspension, and you can ponder them one by one. There’s smoke, charred meat, iron, blood, and mouth-coating but fine-grained tannins. Not quite elegant, not overly rustic, but somewhere in between. Wines that were described as “Burgundian” and actually were.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Hey jagoff, why are you waxing rhapsodic about unicorn wines that are expensive and impossible to find?” Well, the great thing for me, and for you too if you love this type of wine, is that the young Barruol/Lynch Côte Rôtie I was sniffing in the middle of the night—the one that reminded me of those old Versets—is readily available and costs a lot less than many contemporary Côte Rôties, let alone old Verset. We have a nice selection on our online store or you can give me a call at the shop.

Louis Barruol pulls a barrel sample of Côte Rôtie
© Anthony Lynch

The Barruol in Barruol/Lynch is none other than Louis Barruol, of Château de Saint Cosme in Gigondas. At some point in the not too distant past, Kermit and Louis discovered their mutual love of old-school Northern Rhône Syrah from the old masters like Verset and Marius Gentaz and decided to make some. Simple reverse engineering, right? Louis sources the fruit, working exclusively with Sérine, the ancient clone of Syrah, and ferments it in cement tanks with lots of stems. The élevage is in used oak and the wines do not undergo fining or filtration. Kermit chooses the blends, and Louis offers his expertise as well. There’s smoke, meat, black olives—all that great Northern Rhône Syrah stuff. And the texture is there, too: they have the same savory nuances, the same complexity, and the same fine tannins as those magical old bottles.

The collaboration is now in its eighth vintage and includes multiple Côte Rôtie bottlings, as well as Hermitage blanc and rouge and Crozes-Hermitage. The wines get better and better every year. Working as I do for a company whose portfolio contains, or has contained, so many iconic names, I often wonder who will be next. What wines, readily accessible and reasonably priced now, will be unobtainable in twenty years’ time? I suspect these might. As I had my nose in the glass in the middle of the night, I sensed the continuation of a tradition exemplified by Verset. Bleary-eyed and tired, I felt could see back in time.

December Newsletter: Holiday Gift Shop, Ten New Arrivals, Vintage Bordeaux

The December Newsletter is now available.

Click here to download the pdf.

Highlights from this month’s newsletter…

HOLIDAY GIFT SHOP >

Something good for any wine drinker in your life (including you)!

Cozy Sampler >

by Jennifer Oakes

I am an Olympic-level lounger. When I work, I work hard and fast, taking only the breaks necessary to refuel, then it’s back to the grind. But when I’m done with all that, I’m really done, and it’s COZY TIME! I put as much planning into relaxation as I do into meaningful tasks, making lists of snuggle-inducing accoutrements: the latest music, shows/movies to watch, books to read; something soft and warm to wear; the perfect snacks, store-bought or homemade (see enclosed recipes for inspiration); and, of course, wine, wine, and wine.

Life is busy and hectic enough, made rougher in winter—why not give major relaxation a try? Grab some tasty nibbles, a comfy blanket, a pile of pillows, and (naturally) a lovely bottle of wine. We have all manner of suitable sippers in this sampler to smooth out the hard edges, either all for yourself or to share with your friends and loved ones. Fire up the remote, crack open that book, or flip on the stereo, whatever you need—we’ll go for the gold together!

2015 Vaucluse Blanc • Domaine de Durban

2015 Custoza • Corte Gardoni

2015 Savoie “Les Abymes” • A. & M. Quenard

2014 Muscadet • André-Michel Brégeon

NV Bugey-Cerdon Rosé “La Cueille” • Patrick Bottex

2013 Cahors • Clos La Coutale

2014 Barbera “Rosso Pietro” • Cantine Valpane

2014 “Lou Maset” Rouge • Domaine d’Aupilhac

2014 Chinon “Les Petites Roches” • Charles Joguet

2015 Beaujolais-Villages “Cuvée Marylou” • Guy Breton

2013 Côtes-du-Rhône “Cairanne” • Le Goeuil

2013 Chianti Classico • Castagnoli

Normally $233.85

SPECIAL SAMPLER PRICE $164

(a 30% discount)

 

Breton Vertical Sampler >

by Anthony Lynch

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Catherine and Pierre Breton boast decades of combined experience farming and vinifying the great appellations of the Loire. If there is one wine that embodies this lifelong commitment to excellence, it is undoubtedly their Bourgueil Les Perrières bottling. From one of Bourgueil’s historic sites, a slope of siliceous clay over tuffeau limestone, this majestic Cabernet Franc is consistently the Bretons’ most complex and age-worthy cuvée. Add old vines and long élevage in used wood to the equation, and you have a profound, concentrated red of striking finesse that can evolve for decades, thanks to its chalky backbone. In fact, we have never tasted a tired bottle! Some mature vintages of Les Perrières have just arrived directly from the Breton cellars in Restigné: 2007, 2004, 2003, 1999, 1993, and 1992. This is your chance to see the wonders of aged Cabernet Franc from some of the best in the business.

VERTICAL 6-BOTTLE SAMPLER PRICE $450

Young Vignerons Sampler >

THE NEXT GENERATION

by Anthony Lynch

We talk all too often about vine age, but what about vigneron age? My father has uncovered many talented, experienced winemakers throughout his career, but today a new generation has come of age, and we are eager to prove our worth. Many sons and daughters of Kermit’s vigneron pals have now taken the reins at their respective domaines, building off the work of past generations with a fresh perspective and an ambitious drive for improvement. This sampler of two whites and four reds will introduce you to some of our most promising youngsters. Constantly pushing the envelope, they are the future of fine wine.

Featuring wines from Arnaud and David Lavantureux (Domaine Roland Lavantureux), Simon Chotard (Daniel Chotard), Giacomo and Davide Tincani (La Basia),
Matthieu Baudry (Domaine Bernard Baudry), Vincent and Philippe Guillemot (Domaine Pierre Guillemot), and Camille-Anaïs Raoust (Domaine Maestracci)

Normally $150

SPECIAL 6-bottle SAMPLER PRICE $120

(a 20% discount)

TEN NEW ARRIVALS

A lot of wine just arrived. It’s hard to decide what to put in the newsletter each month, so here are ten new arrivals from across France and Italy that we are very excited to show off, as pitched by our staff.

2014 CHABLIS “LES TRUFFIÈRES”
DOMAINE COSTAL >

Limestoney, vibrant, and zesty, with a smoky, waxy lushness. This dynamic silky gem was born to be poured with oysters. Start shucking!
Bryant Vallejo

$30.00 per bottle $324.00 per case

2015 POUILLY FUMÉ “VIEILLES VIGNES”
RÉGIS MINET >

A refreshing, crisp Sauvignon Blanc that draws you into the glass with finesse and subtle aromas of grapefruit. —Steve Waters

$24.00 per bottle $259.20 per case

2014 RIESLING GRAND CRU “SOMMERBERG ECKBERG”
ALBERT BOXLER >

My favorite Riesling in the store (perhaps ever). Zesty, minerally, intensely aromatic, boundlessly deep—my Alsatian ancestry approves!
—Jennifer Oakes

$85.00 per bottle $918.00 per case

2015 FRIULI GRAVE FRIULANO “LA DULINE”
VIGNAI DA DULINE >

Duline makes some of the most exciting wines in Italy, and this Friulano is pure genius. It is generous on the palate with a stony, crisp finish.
—Michael Butler

$45.00 per bottle $486.00 per case

“ROSS DA TRAVAJ” VERMOUTH • BÈRTO >

Our first vermouth! Let this aromatic Piemontese vermouth spice up your holiday cocktail game, or sip it on the rocks with an orange peel garnish. —Clark Z. Terry

$18.00 per liter bottle $194.40 per case

2014 VACQUEYRAS ROUGE “CUVÉE DOUCINELLO”
SANG DES CAILLOUX >

Grenache dominates this spice-and-wild-herb-driven rouge. Think “Châteauneuf’s more rustic, outdoorsy little brother.” —Todd Maltbie

$34.00 per bottle $367.20 per case

2015 ROSSESE “VIGNETO ISASCO”
PUNTA CRENA >

Hailing from the Ligurian coast of Italy, Rossese is a delightfully light-bodied red that packs a ton of flavor with every sip. —Steve Waters

$27.00 per bottle $291.60 per case

2014 VIN DE FRANCE ROUGE “FAUSTINE”
DOMAINE COMTE ABBATUCCI >

This medium-bodied wine with maquis-laden wild fruit and soft tannin was my introduction to the exotic world of Corsican wine years ago. I’ve been mesmerized by Abbatucci’s Faustine rouge, and I hope you will be, too. —Will Meinberg

$37.00 per bottle $399.60 per case

2014 BLAGNY ROUGE 1ER CRU “LA GENELOTTE”
COMTESSE DE CHÉRISEY >

Cool, high-altitude terroir above Meursault, rarely planted to Pinot Noir • Vines planted 1934 • Bright, delicate, earthy • Drink/hold —Anthony Lynch

$65.00 per bottle $702.00 per case

2014 ROSSO DI MONTALCINO • COLLEONI >

If a wine could taste like how Vivaldi’s “L”Autunno” from Le Quattro Stagioni sounds, it would be Marino Colleoni’s rosso. —Dustin Soiseth

$46.00 per bottle $496.80 per case

VINTAGE BORDEAUX

by Anthony Lynch

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2008 LUSSAC ST.-ÉMILION
CHÂTEAU DE BELLEVUE >

No, we did not forget a digit when typing up the price of this wine, an eight-year-old Bordeaux straight from the cellar of an organic vigneron in the heart of the Right Bank. The magic of so-called “satellite appellations,” as we refer to Lussac in relation to neighboring Saint-Émilion, is that there is more variation in terroir within each AOC than between the two. A great Lussac can therefore outperform an average Saint-Émilion, but its price will never come close.

Bellevue sits on a plateau of pure chalk, which gives the wine a flavor as site-specific as can be. It manifests itself in its appetizing acidity, stony tannins, and lively fresh fruit that make this Lussac delicious now and for many years to come.

$26.00 per bottle $280.80 per case

1999 CANON FRONSAC
CHÂTEAU MOULIN PEY-LABRIE >

Natural wine in Bordeaux? It’s a rare thing. Bénédicte and Grégoire Hubau of Moulin Pey-Labrie are among the very few to have adopted this progressive philosophy in a region better known for its enological precision than for organic farming. The wine, however, does not taste radically “natural”—not funky, dirty, spritzy, or any of the other usual suspects. No, it tastes like perfectly mature, old-school Bordeaux—rife with forest floor, black fruit, game, and leathery tannins that beg for a chewy meat to cling to.

$60.00 per bottle $648.00 per case

2006 POMEROL • GOMBAUDE-GUILLOT >

The young Olivier Techer of Gombaude-Guillot is turning heads with each new release, and this 2006, made by his mother, will give you a good idea of what you can expect should you cellar some of his fine Pomerol. The nose offers everything you’d hope for in a mature Merlot from these esteemed soils—a potent whiff of dank, freshly turned earth, cocoa, plum, and black truffle. It makes a grandiose impression on the palate, rich and broad with sensuous depth and a long, luscious finish. I plan to serve it at my holiday table, and why not stock up for some rainy days to come?

$72.00 per bottle $777.60 per case

 

Farmers’ Markets

Room to Improve?

by Kermit Lynch

 

I brag to French friends about Berkeley’s farmers’ market: how great the quality is, what a large selection of organic produce it features, and that vendors here really are farmers—dear Annabelle Lenderink, for example. The growth of farmers’ markets in this country is amazing. For that luxury I give credit to the one and only Alice Waters, who also helped American wine drinkers learn to appreciate rosé, by the way.

Near Bandol, where I live when I’m in France, my village’s market has only one farmer, and he’s not organic. The other stands sell the same crap that you can buy in the supermarket, so the “farmers’ market” is almost a pretense.

 

 

However, as I learned last week in Sicily, we Berkeleyans can still improve. Sicilian cuisine is based on the fact that the island is surrounded—aren’t they all—by water. Tuna, swordfish, anchovies, sardines, and octopuses are ever present in restaurants and markets, along with an incredible variety of other sea critters—often for sale still kickin’! The difference between the taste of a cooked live shrimp versus a dead one, for example, is huge. Our Berkeley market boasts a single fish stand, with a very limited, pre-packaged selection.

 

 

At the market in Isola di Ortigia, I found a stand that serves only two things—the guy opens a raw oyster and also pours you a paper cup of sparkling white blah from liter bottles. Maybe I’m easy, but around 10:30 or 11:00 a.m., a cold raw oyster and a gulp of fizzy blah hits the spot. Across from him was a guy deep-frying fresh anchovies, salting and selling them by the paper-cone-ful. So cheap, so delicious—that’s my favorite way to eat anchovies. I’d like to import him, anchovies, paper cones, and all. Yes, anchovy cones in Berkeley, available daily! I could provide some tasty plonk with which to wash them down—if California law allows such deviant behavior. Oh, yes, and then I saw a stand that sells nothing but red peppers. Wow, a big pile on a wooden table is beautiful. And, if you are pressed for time, the stand has a funky portable barbecue so you can buy your red peppers already cooked and blackened. Simply peel and serve. Or, next to the red pepper stand, a snail stand—nothing but raw, lively snails for sale. Next to that, an old fellow selling nothing but sea urchins! Alive, too. And there were stands with pots full of boiling octopuses. Sicilians buy them simply boiled and then snack on them as they wander through the market.

 

 

See what I mean? We Americans are not doing our part in the search for happy shopping experiences. I know we can do better. Look how we’ve grown competitive in such a short time with our wines, olive oils, and cheeses. There are jobs here waiting for the unemployed—an ocean right offshore to fish, hungers to becalm, tasty pleasures to provide to your fellow citizens.

Meanwhile, if you go to Sicily, don’t spend all your time in the ruins or on the beach. You’ve got some serious snacking ahead of you, too.

Sampler de la Femme

by Jennifer Oakes

sampfemme-7232

Women have scored some exciting achievements lately in the political, sporting, and human rights realms, and why not? We make up 50 percent of the population, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a woman’s ingenuity, talent, and fortitude would produce social ripples or even full-throttle world change—although she may still have to get it done “backwards and in high heels,” as they say. With women winemakers, however, it’s more like up the slope and in rubber boots. Why is it that women winemakers still aren’t that common? Winemaking is hard work, but we know most women don’t lie around on chaise longues eating bonbons, so that’s not the issue. Still, whether through family inheritance, career change, or sheer determination to excel in a career normally practiced by men, our women winemakers are hitting their stride and making wines of which anyone would be proud.

When I started in the wine business, it didn’t occur to me that a wine made by a woman would be unusual. I just tasted and drank, learning the stories of the winemakers and how the wine was made. But I pay more attention now, and here’s your chance to do the same. We offer this assortment of delicious wines, all made by women, to accompany us as we tango backwards into the twenty-first century.

SAMPLER DE LA FEMME >

An assortment of amazing wines, all made by amazing women

November Newsletter: Annual Champagne Sale, Grand Cru Alsace, Brunello

The November Newsletter is now available.

Click here to download the pdf.

Highlights from this month’s newsletter…

CHAMPAGNE

A NEW ERA

by Anthony Lynch

cellar

Times are changing in the Champagne world. From its chalky fields to the cool, dim cellars below, producers are rethinking their approach to the storied bubbly, aided by advances in viticulture and winemaking, plus a climate that seems more conducive to ripening each year. Meanwhile, the world’s increasingly sophisticated consumers are drinking Champagne with a newfound zeal, sparking valuable debate about farming practices, dosage, and blending in relation to the all-important idea of terroir.

The rise in popularity of so-called “grower Champagnes”—Champagnes farmed, harvested, vinified, bottled, aged, and disgorged by the same people—has changed the way we look at the category as a whole. Should Champagne be a consistent product from year to year determined by each producer’s house style, or should it instead be a candid translation of the nuances of each vintage and vineyard site?

Artisans like Paul Bara and J. Lassalle—among the first, and certainly the longest-standing, of such “grower Champagnes” present in the United States—succeed in embodying both sides of this trenchant debate. In other words, their house styles are deeply rooted in terroir. Consider Bouzy’s sunny south-facing slopes, where Pinot Noir thrives, yielding Bara’s accordingly bold, ample, exuberant wines. Alternatively, a vigneron’s touch—or a vigneronne’s, in the case of the three generations of Lassalle women to manage the estate—can also help define a house style: one can point to their use of malolactic fermentations and careful blending of different climats and cépages as the key to their lush, creamy, sublimely refined Champagnes.

Our last, but not least, Champagne house, Veuve Fourny & Fils, offers a window into the changing nature of the Champagne world. Proud ambassadors of racy Côte des Blancs Chardonnay, the brothers in charge represent the cutting edge of experimentation, always seeking a purer and more transparent expression of terroir. They have questioned, and even eliminated, dosage in certain cuvées; they dabble with barrel aging; they even take the concept of site specificity to the extreme with their tête de cuvée, an old-vine Blanc de Blancs from the family’s treasured little clos.

The one thing we can say with certainty about today’s Champagnes is that they are better than ever before. It is only fitting that consumers have acquired a new appreciation for the wine, realizing its value goes far beyond the occasional celebration or holiday. Indeed, we should be drinking Champagne year-round, appreciating its virtues at table, and we should be cellaring more Champagne for the future. On that note, enjoy our yearly Champagne sale with discounted prices on the following offerings from Paul Bara, J. Lassalle, and Veuve Fourny.

Paul Bara • bouzy

bottle

case

15%

25%

regularly

discount

discount

NV Brut Réserve Grand Cru 100%

$57.00

$48.45

$513.00

NV Brut Rosé Grand Cru 100%

63.00

53.55

567.00

2007 Brut Grand Millésime
Grand Cru 100%

70.00

59.50

630.00

2005 Brut Grand Cru
100% “Special Club”

105.00

89.25

945.00

2005 Brut Grand Cru 100% “Comtesse
Marie de France”

148.00

125.80

1,332.00

2004 Brut Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru
100% “Annonciade”

200.00

170.00

1,800.00

J. Lassalle • Chignylesroses

bottle

case

15%

25%

regularly

discount

discount

NV Brut Rosé 1er Cru

$66.00

$56.10

$594.00

2009 Brut 1er Cru “Cuvée Angéline”

89.00

75.65

801.00

2006 Brut Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru

82.00

69.70

738.00

2005 Brut 1er Cru “Cuvée Spéciale”

89.00

75.65

801.00

Veuve Fourny • vertus

bottle

case

15%

25%

regularly

discount

discount

NV Brut Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru

$50.00

$42.50

$450.00

NV Brut 1er Cru “Grande Réserve”

47.00

39.95

423.00

NV Brut Rosé 1er Cru

57.00

48.45

513.00

NV Extra Dry 1er Cru

48.00

40.80

432.00

2011 Extra-Brut Rosé 1er Cru
“Vinothèque”

89.00

75.65

801.00

2009 Extra-Brut 1er Cru
“Monts de Vertus”

79.00

67.15

711.00

2006 Extra-Brut 1er Cru
“Clos Notre Dame”

176.00

149.60

1,584.00

Limited selection of tenths and magnums available.
Please call the store at (510)524-1524.

GRAND CRU ALSACE

by Dixon Brooke

2014 RIESLING GRAND CRU “MUENCHBERG”
DOMAINE OSTERTAG >

Muenchberg is a glorious hidden mountain in northern Alsace, off the beaten track, with a gentle slope and mystical air about it (they don’t call it Monk’s Mountain for nothing). Nobody has worked more tirelessly to make the terroir famous than André Ostertag. He consistently provides fireworks in the bottle and an aging potential that rivals any dry Riesling in Alsace. It is a sure buy every year. Certainly you shouldn’t miss the 2014, one of the greatest Alsatian Riesling vintages in memory. If you want to smell and taste terroir, start here.

$60.00 per bottle $648.00 per case

boxler-detail2012 PINOT GRIS GRAND CRU “SOMMERBERG WIPTAL”
ALBERT BOXLER >

Wiptal is the highest-altitude portion of the Sommerberg vineyard in Niedermorschwihr, a perfect amphitheater that clings to the very top of the vineyard’s steep granite slope. When Jean Boxler looks out his kitchen window in the morning, he sees the sun glinting off its trellises. The brilliance of this site is its ability to produce sumptuously rich and perfumed Pinot Gris that maintains a vibrant acidity and stony backbone. It is as grand as Pinot Gris gets.

$79.00 per bottle $853.20 per case

2014 RIESLING GRAND CRU “KAEFFERKOPF” MEYERFONNÉ >

I tell our sales staff to remember Kaefferkopf with the word “kaleidoscope.” Kaleidoscopic aroma, kaleidoscopic flavor. The soil is also a kaleidoscope of geology. It is no wonder that the wines from this site were listed simply as “Kaefferkopf” on the great French wine lists of the past century, without the necessity of naming the region or the grape variety. Félix Meyer’s 2014 Riesling from this storied terroir does not disappoint. Power, intensity, and complexity combine to bring us a Riesling for the ages.

$52.00 per bottle $561.60 per case

BRUNELLO

by Dixon Brooke

2011 BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO • SESTI >

Sesti’s new Brunello is seductive, tuned up, honed to perfection, and screaming out of the Brunellian gates. It can be enjoyed immediately or savored for many years (store it in a good cellar). There is nothing quite like a great bottle of Brunello when it is ripe for the picking.

Start with its deep, luscious nose. The wine is savory, thick, juicy, wonderfully saucy, almost truffly, with a sensation of freshly turned earth. In my notes taken while tasting it for the first time in April at the Castello di Argiano, Sesti’s hilltop estate, I compared it to a vinous ragù that has been cooked down for a long time with tomatoes and herbs. “Drink with pasta as if sauce,” I wrote. (You should probably still include the pasta sauce.) It also possesses a lovely tannin that is fine and thirst-enhancing with zero aggression.

There are so many Brunelli out there to choose from these days. We think this is one of the very best, and it never disappoints. Proprietor Giuseppe Sesti, an astronomer from Venice who has been deeply involved in his own blend of organic/biodynamic/cosmic viticulture ever since he purchased his estate in the seventies, explained the secret of his land to me recently: “The ancients talked of the aria buona di Argiano [good air of Argiano]. The castello is perched on a promontory surrounded by two valleys that channel cooling winds from the Mediterranean up to the vineyards, keeping the vines cool throughout the summer despite the sometimes scorching heat.” This is one of the most important keys to the perennial freshness of Sesti’s Brunello: with wine—as in real estate—location, location, location!

$85.00 per bottle $918.00 per case