August 5, 2007

August Wines of the Month

It's time for the August Wines of the Month....and we have some beauties!

  • A wonderful Muscadet from the Loire Valley that pairs perfectly with shellfish and seafood
  • A $14 Bordeaux that is on the Bordeaux Wine Bureau's list of "Top 100 Affordable, Classic Bordeaux!"
  • A fabulous red and white in Tier 2 from one of my favorite all-time wineries. Spann Vineyards.
  • Two wines from legendary single vineyards in Oregon for Tier 3
  • If you are wondering about the details of our wine of the month club, please click to our "blog," Freeport Cheese & Wine Blog

I've just posted a description of the "Wines of the Month" program and the August wines to our blog. If you click on the "Wines of the the Month" program link, you will have to scroll down to find the particular post on our blog. It's the last at the bottom of the link.

August's Wines

We are working with Jack Sculley, owner of Easterly Wines, and Michael Saint-Lawrence, who works with Jack. Ask any of the distributors in Maine about Jack and Easterly Wines. The responses will be - (1) Jack has a great nose and great taste in wine; (2) Jack knows wine; (3) great portfolio. Jack is the guy everyone in the business respects and likes - he knows his stuff. He's quietly enthusiastic.

Jack's tell-tale phrase that he REALLY likes a wine is, "It's tastes like it is from somewhere." Jack's not into lots of descriptions. He uses "really good, "serious wine," "lots going on, serious....intense, real..." when he's excited about a wine. He lets his wines speak for themselves. And, they DO!

Jack is the "pioneering" small distributor in Maine. His portfolio of wines is tight, cohesive and all of the wines are good versions of what they are. Jack's portfolio is small enough that he has no room for a so-so wine in it - it has to perform! And, Jack only carries what he wants to carry. He has just under 350 wines in his book - and he manages to hit France, Italy, Spain, Portugal (he has the best Ports in the state), Germany, Austria, Lebanon (he carries Chateau Musar, my favorite winery in the whole world), Australia, South Africa (he has Warwick Estates, which makes Three Cape Ladies and several other wines that are my favorite South African wines), New Zealand (he has Spy Valley, my favorite New Zealand winery), Argentina (he has Weinert which Robert Parker just dubbed then best winery in the world), Chile, California (he has L'Aventure and Spann) and Oregon (St. Innocent, Benton Lane).

When Jack or Michael says he is coming by with something to taste, I perk up. I know I am going to taste something good that is exciting and that will teach me more about wine!

When you are looking for a wine and you want to try something new, look for the Maine 15 cent redemption sticker that has "EASTERLY" on it. It's a good wine. Can't guarantee you'll like that style of wine, but I will guarantee you that it is a good wine. Otherwise, Jack would not sell it!

Tier 1 - $9-15/bottle

We're off to western France this month. Both of these are wonderful, small producers making classically styled wines from their regions. These are serious, serious wines that you can easily drink and enjoy.

Bordeaux is a tough place to learn what is good and what is not. Chateau Margaux and the other "First Growths" are great, but how many can either afford a bottle that costs over $300-500 bottles or are willing to spend that amount of money?

What is hard is finding the good producers in Bordeaux who make moderately priced wine. Why is that so? Bordeaux has lots of wineries producing bad wine.

Muscadet is the classic shellfish wine from the Loire Valley. The La Louvetrie is a beautiful Muscadet!
Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2006 (France) $14.99
This is a tasty wine – I love this with mussels and raw oysters!

Aromas of lemon, lime & minerals. More fruit & richness & fuller body than many Muscadets. Crisp, dry with nice minerality. Slightly spritzy feel.

Organic farming. “Sur Lie” means the wine is fermented on the “lees” - yeasty residue at the bottom. From the grape, “Melon de Bourgogne.”

The Melon de Bourgogne grape is grown in the Loire Valley and is best-known because it is used in Muscadet. In the 18th century, the grape was banned from Burgundy. In an overly harsh winter, many vines in the Nantes area were destroyed in 1709. The Melon grape is quite resistant to frost, so it was brought to the area. The Loire Valley is relatively far north in France. Today, the Melon grape is often called Muscadet because of its association with the wine.

Food pairing - The classic oyster wine, it also is great with other shellfish & white fish; goes well with spicy Asian food, too. “Muscadet, mussels and pomme frites” (french fries) – what a combination!

Chateau Barrail Meyney Bordeaux 2005 (France) $13.99
I love this – just tasted it in early May!

Fabulous value from the GREAT 2005 vintage!

With the weak dollar and worldwide demand for Bordeaux, it is hard to find a wine this good at this price!

Aromas and flavors of vanilla, dark fruit & plums. Excellent fruit (dark berry, black currant). Wonderful blend of spice, rich earth and oak. It’s easy-to-drink – soft & fleshy. Nice tannins and acidity. Pleasing, long finish.

Clearly dominated by Merlot (80%), with some Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) & Cabernet Franc (15%). Aged in French oak.

Food pairing - Great with roasts, steak, grilled meats or just sipping.
Top 100 Affordable Bordeaux 2007, Bordeaux Wine Bureau

Tier 2 - $16-24/bottle
Spann Vineyards

Peter and Betsy Spann founded Spann Vineyards in 2000 after years working in the wine business all over the world – including France and California. The winery is in the beautiful Mayacamas Mountains near the Pacific Coast.

They produce intensely flavored wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese that they grow in their mountainside vineyard. They also select Zinfandel, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Mourvedre and a few other grape varietals from special cool-climate vineyards in Sonoma County.

They focus on making hand-crafted, small production wines that are European in style – lots of Bordeaux, Rhone and Tuscan influences. We’ve carried several of their wines over the last 3 years (including their Mo Zin).

We LOVE their wines!

They farm organically. They only produce small amounts of each wine.

Spann Vineyards Chardonnay-Viognier* 2005 (California) $21.99
GREAT WINE! I love drinking this – the aromas are just beautiful!

An unusual blend of 59% Chardonnay & 41% Viognier. The 2005 has more Viognier in it than previous vintages. This wine pushes Chardonnay into the exotic without going over the top - the Chardonnay gives backbone and body, while the Viognier adds aromas of flowers, apricots and peaches, plus a round, rich feel in the mouth. Full of flavors and aromas! Subtle, proper use of oak - just a hint, a "kiss" of oak.

Aged 6 months in two and three year-old French oak barrels. Tiny winery. Organically farmed. 897 cases made.

Food pairing - Goes great with stir-fries, crab, seafood, salads and poultry.

91 points, “Best of Class - White Varietal Blends,” California State Fair (3rd year in a row this wine has won the award!)

Spann Vineyards Betsy’s Backacher* Lot #3 (California) $18.99
Wonderful blend made from grapes from different vintages and vineyards. Each year the blend is different – each year it is fantastic!

This is big and ripe and softly textured. The color is deep and dark. The aromas are filled with red cherries, black cherries, plums, a little dark chocolate, a little black licorice and more. The flavors pop with red cherries, dark berries, spice, licorice, plums and more. Nicely balanced tannins and acidity. Just well put-together!

The beauty of blends such as this is each grape adds more aromas and flavors to the wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon lengthens the finish. The Merlot adds lushness to the texture. The Syrah adds spice and plums. Cabernet Franc adds pepper. The Grenache adds red berries. The Grenache and Syrah add weight midway through.

Originally, Betsy and Peter Spann made a small amount of this wine for their friends whose aching backs proved they had helped harvest their grapes. They made it from the back acre of their property. The story goes that after giving the bottles to their helpful friends – these friends shared the bottles with others – who wanted to become the Spanns’ friends as well! So, they made some more!

The Betsy’s Backacher blend gives the Spanns the freedom to really do what they want with this wine because it is non-vintage. They can pull together juice from several years and make great wine! And, they do!

This year’s blend is 37% Syrah (2004), 25% Cabernet Sauvignon (2001), 14% Cabernet Franc (2003), 12% Merlot (2003) & 12% Grenache (2004). The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are from their own vineyards. The Cabernet Franc is from the Dry Creek Valley and the Grenache is from the Tehama Foothills.

Only 380 cases made. Open top fermentation for the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache and were hand punched down during fermentation. The Syrah and Cabernet Franc were fermented in stainless steel tanks. All of the wine goes through full malolactic fermentation in barrels. Aged on average 14 months in a mix of two-to-six year-old 59 gallon French oak barrels.

Food pairing – drinks well with or without food! Pair this up with any grilled or roasted meats, a great pizza, etc.
Tier 3 - $25-50/bottle

St. Innocent Winery
Willamette Valley
Salem, Oregon
St. Innocent Winery is a fabulous small winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the southeastern corner of Eola Hills.

It is named after the founder’s father, whose middle name was Innocent and Mark Vlossak’s father inspired his love for wine. Mark founded the winery in May 1988. The winery makes no more than 6,800 cases each year – that’s the capacity of its winery.

St. Innocent makes small production, handmade wines. It produces seven single vineyard Pinot Noirs and one blended Pinot Noir, two single vineyard Chardonnays from Dijon clones, two Pinot Gris and a Pinot Blanc. Mark Vlossak’s philosophy is that wine is made to compliment and enhance a meal. So, their wines tend to have higher acid levels and more complexity. They are best enjoyed with food!

St. Innocent* Chardonnay Freedom Hill Vineyard 2005 (Oregon) $26.99
Freedom Hill Vineyard sits in the foothills of the coastal range. The Chardonnay block faces southeast. The vines are a Dijon clone, #76. This clone produces a Meursault-like Chardonnay – darker fruit with lots of minerality and soft, velvety textures in the mouth. The winemaker really believes this clone and winemaking style (sur lees in used oaky barrels) captures the “terroir” of the Freedom Hill Vineyard – showing the wines minerality and fruit without hiding it behind toasty oak.

Aromas that definitely showcase minerals….paired up with ripe pears, green apples and honeydew melons. The flavors mirror the aromas. The wine is lush in texture and feel. It’s just beautiful. You can drink this now and it tastes great, but this is a wine you should buy a few bottles and hold them for 4-6 years – it’ll gain complexity and depth (and it is already pretty complex and deep!).

The grapes are whole cluster pressed. The wine is barrel fermented in used barrels. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation (with this wine, the impact of malolactic fermentation is small, because the wine doesn’t have a lot of malic acid present at the beginning, so this is not a hugely “buttery and creamy” Chardonnay) and is aged “sur lees” for 12 months in used French oak barrels (used barrels impart little-to-no “oakiness” to the wine). The “lees” are the yeasty residue given off by fermentation that precipitates and settles on the bottom of the barrel – it adds richness and softness to the wine. 217 cases made.

Food pairing – great with rich foods – lobster, creamy sauces, duck, shellfish, many cheeses

This will age well for up to 5 years.

St. Innocent* Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2005 (Oregon) $43.99
This is a classic Oregon Pinot Noir!

Deep, dark color yet is still possible to see through it. Aromas of red and dark berries, flowers, baking spices and pepper. Flavors of dark cherries, raspberries, flowers, baking spices, minerals and a little earth. This really evolves in the glass – this is a wine to drink over an evening and enjoy it as it changes. Lots of layers and complexity in this wine! The crisp acidity helps carry the flavors to the finish. Ripe tannins that are mouth-coating, but not overwhelming. You should be able to age this for a decade.

Shea Vineyard produces a classic style of Pinot Noir. Everything is balanced – acidity, fruit, tannins, etc. Shea Vineyard is located in the Yamhill Foothills, southwest of Portland. Sustainable farming. Harvest time is determined by the winemaker’s mouth (tasting the grapes). Destemmed grapes. Crushed with 30-40% whole berries. The grapes are fermented in two small tanks. Punchdowns are by hand. The wine is aged for 16 months in 42% new French oak and is bottled without fining or filtration. 1,215 cases made.

Food pairing – lamb chops, filet mignon, salmon and other rich meals. Best decanted when young. This will age well for up to 10 years.
The Other:

Argiolas Isola dei Nuraghi Serra Lori 2006 (Sardinia, Italy) $16.99

Awesome rosé!

Beautiful dark salmon color. This is bright, fresh & fun to drink! Aromas & flavors that make you think you are on the Mediterranean coast! Wild berries, Provencal herbs, strawberries & nice length on the finish.

Blend of Cannonau, Monica, Carignano and Bovale Sardo. Hand-harvested grapes. Stainless steel fermentation. Less than 24 hours of skin contact. Bottle aged for 3 months before release. Only 7 cases came into Maine.
Argiolas is a GREAT winery. They are part of the Winebow portfolio (the best importer of Italian wines).
Food pairing – grilled meats, salads, tuna, salmon, etc. Great on a hot day!