Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Bernardus

 ...to create wines that "flatter the palate and stimulate the imagination."  So says the mission statement of Bernardus Winery of Monterey County.  We like it.  What more could you ask for?

We've known Bernardus since the early 1980's.  Back then we were taken by their white wines.  Both the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc had a sweet spiciness that made them ideal as cocktail wines.  The wines weren't actually sweet, at least no more than most from California; they just had maybe a nutmeg-like flavor that your mind associates with sweeter holiday fare.  Maybe it's that quality that made you not want to mess these up by having them with a meal.

Whatever reds Bernardus marketed must not have impressed us back then or else those thoroughly enjoyable whites just overshadowed them.  In the last twenty years though, it's the Bernardus reds that have come to the fore with the critics.  We have sold them successfully for the past twenty years, including their luxury label, Marinus Estate Blend.

At their website Bernardus markets ten wines, four whites and six reds.  A rose is pictured there but is apparently unavailable.  During the holiday season we sold their Monterey Chardonnay, Griva Vineyard Monterey Sauvignon Blanc and Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir.  We wholeheartedly recommended them all; the whites based on our history with them and the red, because of the critical acclaim.  

The Marinus Vineyard is a thirty-six acre hillside expanse over the Carmel Valley.  It was established in 1990 at an elevation of 1,200 feet in soils of sand and clay.  Twenty-five acres are planted in Cabernet Sauvignon, nine in Merlot, and one each in Cabernet Franc and Malbec.  The goal here is obviously to make Bordeaux in California.  We will be stocking Marinus shortly.

So here's the Bernardus backstory: Bernardus Marinus Pons came to Carmel Valley from the Netherlands in the late 1970's.  After purchasing what he thought would be a second home there, he became quite taken with the area and foresaw a Bordeaux-like wine industry for the region.  His wealth came from his father who designed the Volkswagen Microbus and imported the first Beetles into this country.  Relatedly, Pons' hobbies at the time included racing Porsches and skeet shooting, which he excelled at enough to be competitive in the 1972 Olympics.

Pons now owns only half of his winemaking operation with other Dutch interests buying in for the other half. His twenty-five year old winemaking team is led by chief wine maker Dean Dekorth who hails from Burgundy, France.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Gruet

We've been selling Gruet sparkling wines since they first became available here in the late 1980's.  Always exemplary in their elegance and practical in their pricing, Gruet, nonetheless suffered in the marketplace.  Even if it was qualitatively better than similar sparklers, being from New Mexico meant it wasn't California wine and it had to compete with the California stuff.

The Gruet Winery was founded by the Gilbert Gruet family of Champagne, France.  What they found in north-central New Mexico in 1983 were old vineyards planted in Mission variety grapes, holdovers from four hundred years of monastic caretaking.  If you missed it just now, the existence of those sacramental wine grapes point to an unexpected truth - These were some of the oldest vineyards in America. 

So what did the Gruets see in this place that prompted their investment?   They saw a plateau 4-5,000 feet above sea level with sandy, loamy soils and beneficial winds to combat pests and diseases.  They may have also noted the diurnal effect of hot days with cool nights, perfect for grape ripening during the day and preserving freshness and acidity at night.  

Much has changed in the forty+ years that have elapsed since their beginning.  The family now has four hundred acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay contracted to them (with a little Pinot Meunier) and they market ten different wines.  Their current winemaker, Cyril Tanazaco, not only hails from the Champagne district of France but spent the last fourteen years in Verzenay making Grand Cru Champagne.  Champagne vineyards are rated on a 100 percent quality scale with Grand Cru vineyards being the top one percent in quality!  So with the Gruets themselves having their own roots in Champagne, they now have a winemaker with the talent to make the very best.  All in New Mexico!

Stop in and pick up a bottle for New Years Eve!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Unlitro Ampeleia Toscana Rosso

Don't you love it when a wine knowledgeable friend recommends one to you?  I don't mean just one of the gang who all like the same kind of old standbys.  I mean someone with a real palate.  Someone who is blessed with an ability to taste what ninety percent of us can't and then has educated his palate to the point of expertise.  I'm not talking about snobbery.  Who needs that!  I'm just talking about intimately knowing what you're talking about.

So recently I got a recommendation from just that kind of expert.  He's a supplier in the trade but he is so much more.  On this occasion he was talking about a Tuscan red that he was quite taken with  - and here's the clincher - it was not his wine.  It was a competitor's wine he was crowing about.  Instantly my ears perk up.  This wine was so good he was vocalizing its attributes, probably not even thinking about it, and then ruing the fact that it's not in his portfolio.  What a guy!

So I went to the competitor and bought all they had, about eight bottles.  

Unlitro Ampeleia is a Tuscan red from the Ampeleia region of Maremma on the coast of Tuscany.  That region is about a hundred twenty hectares in size with only about forty set in vines.  Ampeleia is rugged territory with elevations varying from 200 to 600 meters.  Fifty-four vineyards are scattered there at different elevations, probably wherever the land is reasonably flat.  The other eighty+ hectares are left wild.

The typical blend from this region might be 40% Alicante Nero (Grenache), 25% Mourvedre, 15% each Sangiovese and Cargnano and 5% Alicante Bouchet.  This kind of blend displays a character most similar to Barbera, Pinot Noir, Gamay or Sangiovese.  But it looks like it might be a Rhone-style wine.  What gives?

The answer is in the winemaking.  Elisabetta Foradori is a white wine maker from Alto Adige.  She is known for her organic, biodynamic and low-sulfite winemaking.  In 2002 she teamed up with a couple others in Maremma to make this clean, fresh, elegant and silky red wine.  It has a dark ruby red color; aromas of black cherry, blueberry and fig; flavors to include bright red fruit, flowers, spices and minerality.  The finish is said to be memorable.

And just like the name implies, it comes in a liter bottle!

Monday, December 6, 2021

Ewephoria

When a cheese is as memorable as this Gouda-style Dutch cheese, you can't pretend it doesn't matter when it's not available.  The stuff is t-o-o-o good.  Covid was certainly part of the problem but I'm not sure there wasn't more going on here.  Since it's made on a smallish farm maybe they just can't keep up with demand.  Anyway, it's back now and everyone needs to try it.  Like I said, it's really quite memorable.

The sheep farm responsible for Ewephoria is located in the Friesland region of north central Netherlands.  This region fronts the Wadden Sea and abuts a nature preserve and has pastures so rich the owners say the sheep eat better than their kids.  It all sounds so idyllic.

CheeseLand is the Seattle-based importer responsible for us having the cheese at all and that may be more true than just what seems apparent.  The name "Ewephoria" is an English language-only pun.  That and its indelibly American-style sweetness has lead some to think the creation of this one began in Seattle.    

Aged for twelve months before its release, Euphoria is a firm sheep cheese.  It has lengthy flavors of butterscotch, caramel and nuts and may be melted on suitable desserts.  It would also serve well with nuts, honey, jams or fresh fruit.

Beverage pairings might start with sherries or perhaps a rich porter...or for counterpoint, perhaps something like a Rhone-style white might be interesting.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

New Domestic Wines

One of our better suppliers specializes in some particularly tasty organically-farmed European wines.  That supplier recently sent us three domestics that fit their European paradigm.  Here's what we got:

2019 Bow & Arrow Johan Vineyard Melon.  Melon (me-LON) is shorthand for Melon de Bourgogne and that grape finds its fame in the coastal Muscadet district in the Loire Valley.  There it produces a light, sort of summery, shellfish-targeted dinner wine.  This Bow & Arrow Melon from Willamette Valley Oregon diverges from that type by being left on the fermentation lees for an extended time.  It is also left unfiltered.  The makers compare the wine to Burgundian Chardonnay and think it may hold for fifteen years!

2020 Broc Cellars "Love Red."  This is a North Coast blend of 52% Carignan, 42% Zinfandel and 6% Grenache.  The grapes are sourced from seventy year old dry farmed vineyards in Solano and Mendocino Counties and harvested early for acidity.  Following a carbonic fermentation the wine sees eight months in neutral French oak and concrete.  Its primary fruit character is blueberry.

2019 Ultraviolet California Cabernet Sauvignon.  This one is made by Poe Vineyards of Napa but 95% of it is Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Red Hills (Lake County) AVA.  The remaining 5% is Napa Cabernet Franc.  It is made at the winery and aged in neutral oak.  Winemaker notes include flavors/aromas of blueberries, plums, currants, blackberry brambles, black pepper and violets.  The wine has a bright acidity, earthiness and persistent velvety tannins.

All three of these stress their organic bonafides including natural yeasts.  Poe concedes the use of some sulfur.  Broc says their yeasts and bacteria are in the grapes themselves and nothing else is added.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Time for Imports?

We've been hearing a lot of scuttlebutt around the trade about the problems in California; you know, the drought and the fires, and how winemakers don't have serviceable juice to make their products.  This industry has always had an uncanny knack for escaping historic calamities in the past.  It's actually inspirational the way they will work with each other to sustain a competitor who is in trouble.  I guess the idea is that the industry as a whole does better if there is a larger pie to sustain it.

So when we heard that certain large players were importing juice from South America to supplement their own, we thought, "Well, this is interesting."  Wine laws in America are purposely loose to protect wineries during rough patches like what's going on now.  If a winery produces a "Napa Valley Cabernet" fully seventy-five percent of that wine must originate in the Napa Valley appellation.  The other twenty-five percent can be from anywhere.

Smoke is the insidious culprit currently messing things up in northern California and it's pervasive.  If importing Chilean and Argentine juice makes sense to offset unusable smoke-tainted produce then you do what you have to do.  And we wish you well.  But for those wine companies who make their living by marketing "Napa" or "Sonoma" and always supplementing with lesser juice, then this isn't exactly a crisis.  It's a way of life.  Just more of the same.  Smoke and mirrors.  "Nothing to see here, please move along."

So here's the pitch:  We have invested in quantities of Alsatian white wines and Italian and Argentine reds.  The whites are traditional choices for Thanksgiving dinner.  The Italians were offered to us for holiday sippers with European tastes.  The Argentines are from Catena, the greatest producer of that country and would work fine for New World aficionados.  All of these are guaranteed to be non-smoked and may be served confidently with that holiday meal.    

Thought for the day: The assumption here is that the juice that is being brought in from South America is inferior to that from northern California.  What if it isn't?   

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Patagonia

One of the newbies in the store this week is A Lisa Malbec from Bodega Noemia of Patagonia.  The finest wine region in the world is Burgundy, France and according to the narrative, Patagonia, at the opposite end of the globe, is supposed to be the new Burgundy.  Or something like that.  Anyway, we have yet to taste anything from there that lives up to the hype.

In our research we have learned that Patagonia is huge; as in, twice the size of California.  And it extends 200 miles over both southern Chile and Argentina, reaching almost to the Atlantic Ocean.  It's a huge desert relying on meltaway from the Andes for sustenance.  

Two rivers define the Patagonian wine country, the Neuquen and Rio Negro.  Our A Lisa vineyards lie near the borough of Mainque on the Rio Negro which, looking at the map of Argentina, puts it pretty much dead center.  Going back to our assertion in the last paragraph - This place is so huge, maybe you have to find a place like Mainque in the vast desert to make world class wine.  Like I said earlier, much of what we have tasted from there doesn't particularly impress.  But then again, they're comparing it to Burgundy.

Patagonia lies below Mendoza on the map and altitude-wise.  Mendoza is a plateau featuring the highest vineyards in the world.  Patagonia comes in at barely 1,000 feet above sea level.  Like Mendoza and every other great wine region, the diurnal effect of warm days/cool nights works in Patagonia to extend the growing season, slowly ripening grapes and accentuating varietal character and acidity.

Patagonian wines are said to be more European in style than what Mendoza does.  This one has a plum violet color; a nose of minerally dark berries and cherries; a structured medium body; a balanced vibrant palate of cherry and cassis with fine acidity and a long fruity finish.  The grapes for this wine are sourced from organically farmed old-vine vineyards.  They are fermented for ten days in stainless steel before the wine is aged by rotating it between oak barriques and stainless steel barrels.

We have sold A Lisa in the past but had never tasted it.  Now we have and it's quite tasty.  It doesn't hurt either that the pricing on this one has moved in the right direction.  Think of A Lisa as a Thanksgiving dinner option.