May 11, 2008

April 2008 Wines of the Month

Tier One


Branko Chardonnay Collio D.O.C. 2004 (Friuli, Italy) Reg. $22.99 Sale $14.99 - If you are looking for a big, oaky, fruit-forward Chardonnay, please look for another wine. This is not that type of Chardonnay. This is much more like a minerally-driven Chablis or Saint-Veran from Burgundy than a California Chardonnay. This is from an small producer in Friuli (the extreme northeastern part of Italy - it's capital is Trieste).

Why the price reduction? It's a $20+ Chardonnay from Friuli in Italy. It's a tough sell at $20+. It's good. So, I bought it.

This is much more nutty (think almonds) with stony minerals than it is fruit-driven. The aromas and flavors have the nuts and minerals and subtle notes of white peaches, unripe green pears and green apples. This is not oaky nor is it buttery/creamy. It's crisp and dry.

Food pairing - seafood, oysters, lobster, mussels, smoked fish. This softens up immensely 15 minutes after opening.


Caves Salgueirao Andreza Reserva Douro D.O.C. (Douro Valley, Portugal) Reg. $17.99 Sale $13.99 - The Douro River is better known in Portugal as the home of Port (the mouth of the river is at Oporto). In Spain, the famous wine area, Ribera del Duero, is along this river.

In recent years, the young "guns" in Port have started making a new style of "still" wine. I have no idea why they call it "still" wine - Port doesn't sparkle! This new style isn't "New World" Spain, much less "New World" Aussie or California. What it is big flavors, still with nice tannins and subtle earthiness. How is the wine different from their grandfather's wine? Gramps was making a VERY earthy, rustic wine.

Touriga Franca gives intense blueberry, blackberry and black cherry aromas and flavors to the wine. The Tinta Roriz adds red berries and spices. The oak barrel aging adds subtle vanilla notes. Rich, concentrated wine with nice tannins that balance the flavors. Excellent length and smoothness on the finish. Blend of Tinta Roriz (what the Spanish call Tempranillo - THE Rioja grape and the dominant grape in Ribero del Duero) and Touriga Franca (one of the dominant Portuguese grapes). Aged 12 months in new American oak. Food pairings - steak, lamb, big, flavorful mushroom dishes, etc. Decant this - you'll thank me for taking time to "open" up the wine by decanting it - the flavors will emerge more rapidly.

Tier Two

Sineann Gewurztraminer Oak Ridge Vineyard Columbia Gorge 2006 (Oregon) $19.99 - Peter Rosback, owner and winemaker at this tiny winery, has built a reputation for being one of Oregon’s best winemakers – producing bright, rich, elegant, bold wines!

This has a beautiful floral aroma that is typical of this grape (call it Gewurz for short – the “w” is a “v”), with notes of tropical fruits and exotic spices. Flavors of apples, pears, pineapple and subtle rose petals. Lush and rich! Nice acidity and balance to this wine!

Food pairing – sautéed scallops, lobster, tuna, risotto with truffle oil, curry dishes. Drinks nicely without food.

Peter Rosback, winemaker and founder of Sineann, may make more different wines at his small winery than almost anyone else in Oregon! At least 25 different wines! While he makes a lot of different wines, he doesn't make much of any wine!

He says that, "One of the reasons I moved to Oregon was because I liked the quality of the soft fruits. The strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries were the best I've had on earth - they were just tremendous things. Little did I know that soft fruits would become my livelihood!"

Peter began making wine as an amateur in 1985 - it was a fluke that he started making wine. Where he picked peaches each summer was at an orchard who had 1/4 acre of old pinot noir vines. Together with another friend who had some winemaking equipment, Peter made his first Pinot Noir. The first year he made 5 gallons, 30 gallons the 2nd year, 100 gallons the next and then 170 gallons - near the legal limit for home winemaking. "You know how great the grapes taste in their raw, native state? The juice is so incredible! Then it turns into this raw, alcoholic thing, and then that tart raw things goes through malolactic fermentation and mellows out and turns into beautiful Pinot Noir.....I was hooked!"

In the early 1990's Peter was using his vacations from his job as an engineer and working the harvests and helping in the cellars at Elk Cove Vineyards. At Elk Cove, he met David O'Reilly, who thought Peter's wines were really good and his story unique. So, in 1994 they partnered to make Peter's first commercial wine - 125 cases of the Sineann Old Vine Zinfandel (which is still Peter's best selling wine).

The Vineyard Matters

Peter has continually bought grapes from the best growers - he does this by searching out the grower whenever he has a locally-made wine he likes. Early in his career demand was less for grapes than it is today, so he found he could get great grapes if he worked with the growers - especially since he was willing to pay top dollar for high quality grapes. This has paid off as he still has access to vineyards that have developed huge reputations over the years - Champoux in Washington (both the Old Block and the "Baby Poux" Vineyards - formerly known as Mercer Ranch Vineyard) is just one of the top vineyards he uses; Resonance Vineyard is another - the Oak Ridge used for this Gewurztraminer is another. Peter continues to find and stick with growers that produce great fruit. He'll go anywhere he can reach in his 2-ton truck and still be able to return and destem the grapes in a single day.

Peter pays top price for his fruit and honors the vineyard for each by putting the name on his label. Together with his growers, he's trying to build a business that helps all of them be successful and that produces the best wine possible!


Zaccagnini Lacrima di Morro d'Alba D.O.C. 2004 (Italy) $16.99 - This is an unusual grape from Italy. It borders on unique!

This wine is made by a long-time family-owned winery (poke around on the site and see the photos and look at the family! - this is a REAL farm that makes REAL wine!) on the same hillsides this grape has been grown for THOUSANDS of years. That said, this is one of Italy's and the Marche's newest D.O.C. (what does that mean, anyway....I'm gonna write that up soon!) areas.

This reminds me of a dusty, red-berried Chianti Classico. It has that bright red fruit characteristic of Sangiovese along with the dusty, tannins that true Chianti Classico has for me! This wine speaks of a PLACE! Aromas of red cherries, raspberries and dusty earth. Hints also of dark fruit such as blueberries and blackberries. Nice aromas of flowers - subtle, yet nice and inviting. I like this so much because it REMINDS me of a well-made Chianti Classico at a fraction of the price!

The name translates literally as "the tears of Alba." that truly the name of the grape? I don't know. Neither do the Italians. It's an ANCIENT grape varietal in Italy. It's origins? Still unknown. The central Adriatic Coast of Italy and parts more south still are home to grapes we don't know.

The grapes are hand-harvested and pressed in mid-October. They destem by hand, crush and ferment the grapes at lower temperatures for a smoother wine. After fermentation in LARGE French oak casks, the Lacrima is then aged in stainless steel vats and in the bottle before releasing it.

Bond Imports brings this wine to the United States. This importer has close family ties to Maine - to an extent that most of their retailers and restaurants are in Maine.

Food pairing - beef, lamb, the Fra'Mani meats (best salamis in the WORLD) we sell, pates and cheeses such as Reblochon, Taleggio, Piave Vecchio, Parmesan Reggiano (the KING of cheese). This IS a food wine - pair it with food to bring out its best characteristics and the best of your food. Decant this to open it up.

Tier Three

Albarino do Ferreiro Rias Baixas D.O. 2006 (Spain) $28.99 - Albrarino is the grape. It is fast becoming one of the most sought-after wine wines in the world!

This winery, founded in 1973, is tiny. It only has 5 hectares of vineyards in the famed Rias Baixas (REE-us BUY-shass) - the best place in the world to grow Albarino! Out of these 5 hectares, 3 hectares are 50+ years-old vineyards and 1 hectare is 200+ years. The vineyards are in 8 plots in the subregion of Salnes - an area close to the ocean that is protected by mountain ranges. This Albarino is made from grapes from each of the 8 plots. Each plot is fermented separately and aged on lees for approximately 6 months. Then, they blend the 8 different lots of wine into this wonderful Ablation. Owner and winemaker, Gerardo Mendez, farms organically and only uses indigenous grapes. He believes that these local yeasts help his wines show the true qualities of his "terruño" ("terroir").

Rias Baixas is in the extreme Northwestern corner of Spain in Galicia. Rias Baixas takes its name craggy inlets or estuaries that make up this part of Spain - in many ways this area looks more like parts of Ireland and England than it does Spain. The residents are descendents of Celts. This is a major fishing area and they make their wine to pair with rich North Atlantic seafood.

Pretty light yellow color. Aromas of herbs, lemons, limes, flowers, white pepper and anise. Tart and tangy lemon and lime flavors with hints of peppery spice. Notes of stone fruits (peaches, nectarines) & honey. Long, crisp finish with a lot of weight and smoothness. Supple texture to the wine. Crisp, bracing acidity. Food pairing - rich seafood dishes, duck, rich poultry dishes, lobster, pork, veal, etc. Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar, 90 points


Myuge Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (California) $34.99 - Ned Swain of Devenish Wines came to me with this wine.....I love it when Ned comes to me with obscure wines he loves.......I taste A LOT of wine. Ned tastes a SCARY HUGE amount of wine. And, he calls a bad wine a bad wine and he RAVES about a really good wine....and he doesn't use geeky wine words (Ned and I have talked about wine for nearly 4 years and we've never gone "wine word geeky" - the big phrase is, "This is good - I like this!). Ned has an e-mail newsletter and he even recommends wines he doesn't sell (that's a BANKABLE recommendation, right there!).

Abe Schoener, a professor of Ancient Greek Philosophy, started making wine in 1998 by interning at the Stag's Leap Winery when he was on sabbatical. Then he became the winemaker at Luna for a few years before starting this very special and specialized project. Everything Abe makes is made in TINY quantities. Less than 100 cases per wine as a rule. He makes everything at his new winery in the Suison Valley just east of Napa. The Suison Valley is listed on the Myuge label. Now we know this wine is from Rutherford.....beyond that, we don't know much - we've asked the broker who sells it to Ned. They don't know. We've tried tracking down luck, yet on that one. So, we don't know the particulars - aside from this is a side project of Abe's AND it tastes really good!

The wine is dark, dark ruby to nearly black in the center. It looks unfiltered - so DECANT this both for sediment reasons and to open up the wine's aromas and flavors!

This is powerful and full-bodied - it's really a mouthful of wine! It opens with black cherry fruit that blends into the mid-palate and picks up hints of juicy plums and cinnamon along the way. At the back are notes of cedar. The finish is long and smooth. There are definitely tannins in this wine - they are dry and dusty in the way Rutherford Cabs are supposed to be, but they are integrated into the wine. This is a young Napa Cabernet with a lot of structure and depth to it. The aromas are seductive and the complex flavors are well-integrated.

I am in love with this wine and think it's a steal at $35 or so. It drinks like a much better Napa Cabernet, in fact all the online websites I've found list it for over $40. Regardless, I'm excited to have found this because so many Napa Cabernets are either really expensive or just simple and don't have the structure Napa is famous for. This wine is really a gem! As another wine merchant said, "Wherever this comes from there is some serious wine making behind it!"

Food pairing – steak, lamb, big foods. DECANT this wine when you drink it!