Herri Mina

herrimina

Pétrus is at the absolute apogee of the wine world. And it isn’t just a trophy wine for people with far too much money, although it is that, in part. Just like some other untouchables (DRC comes to mind) the château actually makes utterly sublime wines that show the utmost respect for local tradition and terroir.

That the wine is so honest and true to itself is in no small part thanks to Jean-Claude Berrouet, who oversaw 40 vintages there, including many of the great wines that put Pétrus into the wine world’s pole position.

But Berrouet wasn’t satisfied playing only at those rarefied heights: he also craved that quintessentially French experience of working on more modest, humbler wines—country wines. So, like DRC’s Aubert de Villaine (who founded his incredible Côte Chalonnaise Domaine de Villaine for similar reasons) he had side projects where he (and now his son, who also succeeded him as Pétrus’ winemaker) could connect his hands with soil in terroirs that he knew were both truly great and wildly undervalued, and make wine ordinary people can actually afford to drink.

One of the side projects, Herri Mina, which we talked about in this space a while back, is out in France’s Basque country—Berrouet’s land of origin. You see, feeling homesick, Berrouet moved back to work the local terroir, growing Cabernet Franc (Pétrus’ other grape) and Irouléguy’s excellent native white varieties.

Now, these wines are not like Pétrus… and that’s OK! Pétrus just isn’t the bottle to open for steak off the backyard grill on a hot summer night. But these wines are perfect! The Herri Mina’s pretty fruit and subtle tobacco and earth notes put it somewhere between Bordeaux and Saumur-Champigny stylistically—but with its own special character. 2014 is a very good vintage in Irouléguy (not as hot as ’15) and the wine has perfect balance.

And don’t forget the white! It is dense, complex, full of fruit and mineral. If Txakoli is an expression of the Basque seaside, think of this Irouléguy Blanc as an expression of its mountains. Both are serious wines, despite the great price, and would benefit from a little cellaring or decanting.

Herri Mina, Irouléguy Blanc, 2013 – $28.99

Herri Mina, Irouléguy Rouge, 2014 – $29.99

Don’t miss out on the 2014 Red Burgundy Vintage!

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2014 was one of those rare vintages in Burgundy that was equally good for red and white wines.  Most of the hyperbole was directed to the fantastic quality of the white wines.  Indeed it is true that from Macon, through the Cote Chalonnaise and in the great growths of the Cote de Beaune – even all the way up to Chablis – the 2014 white Burgundies were hailed by everybody as the greatest vintage since 1992 and so on and on.  They are undeniably marvelous.

However – 2014 Reds are being overlooked and this is a sad state of affairs.  Because of the hoopla over 2015 red Burgundy, people are forgetting about one of the best red wine vintages we have seen in a long time. The 2014 red burgundies are a great “mirror” of the different vineyards they came from. Village wines taste like the exceptional village wine that they are,  the premier crus are a great step up and grand crus are obviously on another level, even at this young age. People often talk about “transparency” in a vintage and here is a great opportunity to see the Burgundy Cru classifications illustrated for you – right there in your wine glass.

 The growers know and I think that no one has expressed this with greater eloquence than the exceptional Cecile Tremblay:  “I really like the vintage as it’s ultra-pure, in fact unlike any of the recent vintages there is no one defining element of the 2014 vintage. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 you know instantly which one is which because of their specific characteristics. 2014 isn’t like that and as such you can really taste the underlying terroir.”

Becky Wasserman says that she had a real deja vu experience with the 2014 vintage – she thinks it is a reincarnation of 1966, one of the first vintages she was able to purchase on arriving in Burgundy. She had lunch with the Lafarge family in Volnay and told Michel Lafarge about her perception of 2014. He sent Frederic down to the cellar to get a bottle of 1966 Volnay Clos de Chateau des Ducs and they had it with the cheese.  She was right! Anthony Hanson said that it is as rare to have a vintage that can be drunk and with such delight as it is to have a vintage that will last for years and years.

Check out our selection here

Reveling in Rioja

Recently, I had the pleasure of going on a Rioja DOCa Trade Tour, sponsored by the IMG_4085Consejo Regulador— the control board governing the wine region of Rioja, first established in 1925. Along with seven others, I was taken to some of the most well known Bodegas of the region, as well as some more off the beaten path. I learned a lot about Rioja, both the wines and the region.

Not to be confused with the political region of La Rioja, the wine region of Rioja crosses political boundaries, with some of its bodegas and vineyards falling in the Basque country and Navarre. Made up of three subregions, Rioja consists of Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja, and Rioja Alavesa. The climates are remarkably different, from Atlantic/continental to Mediterranean.

The heart of Rioja is the Ebro river, which runs from the northwest of Spain beginning in the Cantabrian Mountains and eventually empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Fed by 7 major tributaries each in their own sub-valley, it flows through Logrono (the capital of La Rioja) and Haro, where many of the most famous bodegas of the region are located (Lopez de Heredia, C.V.N.E.,La Rioja Alta, etc).

IMG_4025Rioja is broken into three subregions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. While Rioja Alta has a continental climate and Rioja Baja has a more Mediterranean climate, Rioja Alavesa is right at the foot of the mountains and though similar to Rioja Alta, is often susceptible to very cold winds.

There are many bodegas producing high-quality, traditional style Rioja, but it seems there are just as many producing more experimental wines. One interesting thing about the DOCa of Rioja is that while only certain grapes may be used, and how long crianzas, reservas, and gran reservas must be aged in oak and bottle, other than that there isn’t much to distinguish what type of wine you might get. For example, you may have a bottle of 100% Tempranillo and it’s labeled “Rioja,” or you might have a bottle of 100% Garnacha, which will also be labeled “Rioja.”

Something exciting I discovered is that there is a lot (ok maybe not a lot, but more than I thought) of very high quality Rioja Blanco being produced. Sadly, not much of this is being exported to the U.S., with the perception being that the market doesn’t want it. Barrel aged 100% Viura is one of my new favorite wines, and with good reason: so much of it was exceptional that each time I had the opportunity to drink one I did. As a group, we mentioned to the that we’d love to have access to more Rioja Blanco, and hope that soon enough there will be more available for us to pass on to you.

Of course we do have a few, with the most notable being the Lopez de Heredia “Tondonia” Rioja Blanco Reserva 2003 ($46.99) as well as “Gravonia” Rioja Blanco Crianza 2006 ($28.99). We also have, by an almost as well known producer, Marques de Murrieta, Rioja Blanco Reserva “Capellania” 2010 ($23.99).

My favorite bodega visit was our final one, when we visited Senorio de P. Pecina, and it was the perfect ending to an excellent trip. I had requested that we visit this bodega IMG_4175because we carry a lot of it in the shop, and I was not disappointed. Truly traditional Rioja, there wasn’t a single bottle that I didn’t love, from the current vintage rose back through to a 1997 Rioja Reserva. I have been selling these like mad since my return, because I truly stand behind them.

Currently we have:

Rioja, Cosecha 2015 $14.99
Rioja, Crianza 2012 $19.99
Rioja, Reserva 2009 $27.99
Rioja, “Vendimia Seleccionada” 2006 $36.99

I believe that Rioja is some of the best value in the wine world, as a lot of the region’s wine-making techniques were learned from vignerons from Bordeaux who were trying to find new land after phylloxera hit. Gran Reservas from top bodegas and top vintages are still available for well under $100.00, and until the word gets out, this trend should continue.

Fenouillet Rosé

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If you subscribe to our newsletter, you may recall a story we ran last year in our newsletter about “The Once a Year Marvel that is Rosenthal’s Very Best Value.” It was Fenouillet’s red wine, an oddball blend of Merlot and Marcellan that’s priced like a mass-market grocery store wine but made with love by a small family domaine.

Right now we have a slightly different version of this marvel: Fenouillet’s rosé.

We tend to think of rosé as falling into one of two categories. There are the vins de soif (wines for thirst), light-colored rosés you drink as an aperitif on your rooftop, and vins gastronomiques, slightly darker rosés that pair well with food.

The Fenouillet is somewhere in between, which gives it chameleon-like powers. It’s so delightfully inexpensive that it would be a shame if you couldn’t guzzle it whenever you’re in the mood, on a rooftop or elsewhere. And you can! It’s fresh and has an easy charm and it will make your afternoon better.

But let’s say you’re drinking a bottle while preparing a seasonal Green Market meal, it would be a shame if you couldn’t keep drinking the rosé right through dinner. Here you can! It’s perfect with summer dishes from ratatouille to chicken salad to grilled swordfish.

Fenouillet, VdP Rosé, 2016 – Fenouillet uses a more traditionally Provençal blend for this wine than their red: 50% Cinsault, 40% Grenache, and 10% Syrah.

Exploring the Fingerlakes

I recently spent a few days in the Fingerlakes, and though I certainly had my fair share of Riesling and Cabernet Franc, I was also excited about some unexpected wines that several wineries are producing. Chardonnay, Merlot, and even Saperavi are being made with increasing success, not to mention the myriad sparkling wines (both Riesling and non) that have begun popping up. It may be a few years before these are perfected, but as the region continues to grow in technique and tradition, it’s only a matter of time.

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It wasn’t until the 1950s that vitis vinifera first made its way to the Fingerlakes region, although before that native grape varietals were being grown and made into wine for at least a century. Many places are still producing these wines, as well as some French hybrids (most notably Vignoles), and in fact only about 15% of the region is planted to vitis vinifera. Of that 15%, the most widely planted grapes are Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Due to the extreme climate, with often very hot summers and below zero winters, sturdy, early-ripening grapes fare best. Initial planters thought Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would do well, and while there are some places where indeed this has been successful, on the whole it doesn’t work. Where it does succeed is typically in vineyards closest to the deepest of the lakes, Seneca.

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And the lakes have an interesting effect on the climate, and in particular, Seneca Lake. Due to its depth, it takes a long time to warm up in the summer (locals like to say that it warms up just in time for the weather to get cold), and conversely a long time to cool down again in the winter– it hasn’t frozen over since 1912! Because of this, vineyards located close to the lake stay warmer longer, allowing grapes to fully ripen in the fall and avoiding early spring frosts that might otherwise damage vines.

I had the opportunity to work for a few hours at the winery of Hermann J. Wiemer, and it was a pleasure to help (even in a very small way) make wine that will be on our shelves next year. Currently we have their Cabernet Franc 2014 ($24.99) and Dry Riesling 2016 ($19.99), both excellent examples of what the region has to offer.

-Chris

Litaud’s Chardonnay

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Jean-Jacques Litaud’s vineyards are nestled beneath the colossal cliff of Vergisson in the tiny hamlet of Les Membrets. The soils are limestone mixed with a rich red soil. Why red? Well, they’re said to be stained red by the blood of countless animals which were driven off the cliffs by stone age hunters. And archeological digs have found lots of wooly mammoth skeletons at the base of those giant rocks. Some of the vines are almost 100 years old – old, but much younger than the Woolly Mammoth blood. 

These magnificent cliffs in the Macon region are stunning. If you’re a reader of Asterix and Obelix, you’d be interested to know that they were holy sites for the Druids. Readers of Libération may be more interested in the Socialist Party’s history of rallying there, everyone with a red rose – the French symbol of socialism. For them, at least, socialism worked: Francois Mitterand’s wife was from this area and he lavished money on the region. The roads are beautifully paved and graded, a joy to drive on.

Of course, socialism and woolly mammoths have little to do with the sheer tastiness of Litaud’s Chardonnay, the only grape that he works with. Jean-Jacques Litaud works his Chardonnay vines meticulously and entirely by hand. His holdings are small enough that he can focus his attention on every vine. In the winery, he doesn’t do much other than let the wine rest for at least 10 months – uncommonly long for Maconnais Chardonnay at this price point. He doesn’t use any new oak. His wines are delicious and crystal clear expressions of terroir and vintage. 

This region makes by far the most complex white wine you’ll find anywhere for under $20. Of course, many of the best wines have become much more than $20, especially the known “names” like St. Veran.

Domaine des Vieilles Pierres (Jean-Jacques Litaud), St. Veran “Les Pommards”, 2015 – $19.99  – the 2015 of this wine is a showstopper: intense, full of delicious fruit. Where the ’14 was a study in minerality and subtlety, ’15 is decadently delicious, with exotic sweet fruit notes verging on the tropical.

What about that cheap wine in Europe?

In New York we have a lot of European visitors. Some of them complain about our prices. Not: “Oh, I can get this same wine back home for 30% less,” which would sometimes be true (though often not). Rather, it’s more of a blanket statement like: “At home wines cost just 5 or 6 euros.”

I happen to be in Europe for a few weeks so I decided to investigate. You may remember Turin, a very sophisticated city in Northern Italy, from the Winter Olympics a few years back. But it’s more important to us a center for the wine trade just a few miles from the Langhe, one of the world’s greatest wine regions and home, not only of (expensive, age-worthy) Barolo and Barbaresco, but also of more humble wines like Barbera, Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino, etc.

If Europeans really have access to superior 5 or 6 euro wines, surely I’ll find them here.

I’m in a super-trendy neighborhood called San Salvario, with incredible restaurants and a great bar scene, an amazing outdoor market that opens daily, and gorgeous old cafés that serve some of the best espresso I’ve ever found. Admittedly, there are also drug dealers on the corner by my apartment—there may be better parts of town—but San Salvario is pretty good and it’s where I am, so it will have to do for this investigation.

So I set out to do some wine shopping. Naturally, I started by looking for wine stores. I checked on google and walked just about every block of the neighborhood. I quickly established that there are no wine stores in San Salvario. There are a few great butchers (a veal specialist, a pork specialist, a generalist), a fish store proudly displaying its “Slow Food” credentials, outrageously fine bakeries­—really, it’s a pretty great neighborhood—but not a single wine store.

The locals buy all their wine in grocery stores. So I went to the neighborhood grocery stores and looked for the best selection. It turns out the best selection is in a French store called Carrefour, which you’ve probably heard of, as it’s the second largest non-American retailer in the world (and bigger than Amazon!). The Carrefours I’ve been to have been suburban “hypermarkets” – massive grocery stores with endless aisles – but San Salvario’s is a Carrefour “Express,” a highly edited version.

Here are photos of the wine selections:

carrefourboxwinecarrefourbottles

Look at these photos and you can make your own observations. Here are mine.

First of all, there is some very cheap wine here. Like just a couple Euros cheap. These really cheap wines come in boxes and have legal designations like “Vino Bianco di Italia” or just “Vino Italiano”; they can come from (a factory) anywhere in Italy. I didn’t taste any—sorry, life is too short, even for the sake of science.

Second, as you know, the most famous wine of the Langhe is Barolo. Yet here we are, in a fine neighborhood just a 45 minute drive from the Langhe, and the neighborhood’s best wine selection includes only one Barolo! At under 20 euros, it’s a good price. Unfortunately, the producer is Fontanafredda, which despite a glorious past is basically an industrial concern these days. Very few of our Barolo customers would find this wine satisfactory. If you want Barolo made by artisans, you cannot buy it here. And by the way, if you want Barbaresco at all, you’re out of luck.

Third, there are indeed many wines in the 5 to 8 euro range. I’m guessing the Europeans who explain that this is how wine should be priced are thinking of wines like these. And you can kind of see where they’re coming from, to a point: there are some Dolcettos and Barberas, and perhaps a Freisa or a Grignolino, that will work in a pinch. But the best of them are, again, from Fontanafredda, and everything else is frankly schlocky. Artisanal local wine, this is not!

Now, I understand you don’t need to drink fine, artisanal wine every night. But there’s a stunning disconnect between the excellent bread, coffee and produce that you easily find in the neighborhood, and these wines.

Fourth, there is the obvious problem of range. There isn’t much selection at from anything beyond Piedmont at all. Part of Europe’s charm – and especially Italy’s charm — is its intense locality, and I would never fault a local shop for offering only local wines. But the tradeoff is you don’t get to explore the rest of the world’s great and varied wine regions.

Fifth, things are particularly brutal here if you want white wine. Piedmont actually has some pretty good white stuff, Roero Arneis for example. But none of it is at this shop. Ok, maybe that Cortese in the top right corner is passable, but I didn’t take a chance on it. In any case, my landlord gifted me a bottle of Cortese, and I drank it in the 85 degree heat. It had been yeasted (or otherwise manipulated) to taste something like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but I guess it did the job. Who needs more than that?

And that, of course, is the big question: Who needs more than that? None of us really needs to drink artisanal wine. If we lived in a universe consisting only of this Carrefour’s wine selection, how many of us would complain? Indeed, many of those European customers mentioned above probably do live in such a universe. Should they care?

I’m guilty of not caring in similar circumstances. In Brooklyn I live around the corner from a shop that pulls fresh mozzarella five times a day. It’s still warm when I eat it at home, melting over my height-of-season tomatoes from the Green Market. Surely this is as good as it gets.

It turns out no, not even close. At that open air market in San Salverio there’s a vendor with cheeses direct from Campania. I purchased a ball of Buffala from Salerno. Back at my apartment I sliced into it, expecting it to require a little seasoning and maybe a splash of olive oil. But no, all it needed was to be eaten. Another slice and then another. (Then my wife complaining that I forgot to leave some for her green bean recipe.)

All my life I had been satisfied with my Brooklyn mozzarella, only to discover in Turin that it was a pale imitation of the real thing. How many of these 5-6 euro Europeans are actually living in the Matrix, fooling themselves into contentedness, as I did for so many years with my Brooklyn Mozz?

We believe that in America you can drink delicious, real wines without spending a fortune. In New York and San Francisco we are big advocates of inexpensive European table wines and carry a wide range. They cost a little more than Carrefour’s 5-8 euros—more like 10-15 (dollars). But unlike those Carrefour wines, these are true artisanal expressions of their origin. They are like that ball of Buffala from Salerno.

Here are some examples:

Isle Saint-Pierre, Bouches-du-Rhone Rose, 2016
De Forville, Dolcetto d’Alba, 2015
Pollerhof, Gruner Veltliner, 2016 
Grand Bateau, Bordeaux, 2015
Domaine Labbe, Abymes Savoie, 2016

Ameztoi “Kirkilla”

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When you travel to Basque country and enjoy a glass of Txakoli at the bar, it feels like a truly authentic experience: you’re drinking the “real” wine of the locals. And it’s true! Txakoli’s a delicious and local treat you’re unlikely to find just one or two towns over in, say, Santander or Biarritz.

But that Txakoli is actually a modern invention made possible by mechanical farming and steel tanks. It’s different from what the locals drank even a generation or two ago. What were the wines like back then? Well, now you can find out, thanks to our friends at Ameztoi (the growers behind perennial Rosé fave, “Rubentis”).

For the first time, Ameztoi has exported a super-old-fashioned Txakoli, a true labor of love. They used their best material, Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza from their their highest-elevation and oldest vineyards. And they made the wine using old, pre-Franco methods: natural fermentations in 600L barrels followed by several months resting there on the lees. No manipulation. No technology.

Of course, part of Txakoli’s charm is its steely freshness. But don’t worry for a moment they gave that up. Think instead of the great Chablis that also undergo aging in neutral barrels, like Raveneau’s or Dauvissat’s, which have extra levels of richness and complexity without sacrificing any chablisien tension or fresh minerality. Likewise, the Kirkilla is a rich but incredibly acid-driven, savory, herbal wine. One point: while the other wines from Ameztoi all have some level of spritz, this is a still wine.

Again, this is the first time in the U.S. and hardly any wine came in. Indeed, we don’t see anyone else offering this wine in the United States. This is definitely one to try, and especially appropriate for warm weather during a holiday week:

Ameztoi, Getariako Txakolina “Kirkilla”, 2016 – $39.99

Ridge For The 4th

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It took the monks centuries to figure out how to make great wine in Burgundy and the Mosel. Somehow, at California’s Ridge Vineyards, they figured it out in just a few years. While fashions have come and gone, Ridge has stood fast for over 50 years, working their incredible vineyards with care and making true American masterpieces.

July 4 is as good excuse as any to open a good bottle of Zinfandel, but no excuse is really required. Zinfandel has been maligned in some crowds, but only because too many producers have made overripe, high-alcohol versions that taste more like a coca cola–based cocktail than fine wine. Ridge never succumbed to that unfortunate trend, and they continue to make true representations of the grape: rich but balanced wines with both black and red fruits, and a healthy element of spice. The best wines, like the single vineyards offered below, belong in the same class as Châteauneuf-du-Pape: big wines that nevertheless clearly express their terroir.

As famous as they are for their Zins, Ridge’s most collectible wine is the Monte Bello Cabernet, from the cool, limestone-rich vineyard of the same name high in the Santa Cruz mountains. It’s one of the world’s great wines, complex and super-ageworthy—extraordinary, though not necessarily the wine for a July 4th cookout. But Ridge makes other wines from Monte Bello that would be perfect.

The Monte Bello Chardonnay and the Estate Merlot—both from Monte Bello fruit—are more accessible when young, but still clear wines of terroir. What more could you ask for on July 4th?

Ridge, Zinfandel “Three Valleys”, 2014

Ridge, Zinfandel “Paso Robles”, 2015

Ridge, Zinfandel “Geyserville – 50th Anniversary Edition”, 2015

Ridge, Merlot Estate, 2014

Ridge, Chardonnay “Monte Bello”, 2013 One of California’s great wines, it’s an absolute steal. California fruit with an old-world feel. It’s delicious now, but if you lay it down you’re in for a real treat: it matures into something truly spectacular.

Chanterêves

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We knew it was only a matter of time before Chanterêves would be “discovered,” as in talked about and chased by U.S wine drinkers beyond us and our customers. But now they appear headed for the big leagues.

For a while, the wines from this micro-négociant husband-wife team of Tomoko Kuriyama and Guillaume Bott were available only with us. But they now have distribution here in New York thanks to the team at Grand Cru, a boutique importer/wholesaler with a legendary Burgundy portfolio in the making that includes producers like the Marquis d’Angerville, Roumier, and Comte Liger-Belair. And now Chanterêves has the honor to be sold alongside those famous names. We are very excited for them!

They’re also getting attention in the press, including in Antonio Galloni’s recent piece on “The Undiscovered Burgundy,” where he refers to what we love about Chanterêves: their “airy, minimalist style that favors freshness and aromatic nuance.”

All of this good news for Chanterêves lines up with the best of news of all: their release from the great 2015 vintage. These beautiful Bourgognes are wines that you can already start drinking to enjoy that “airy” style.

Chanterêves, Bourgogne Rouge, 2015 – $29.99
Chanterêves, Bourgogne Blanc, 2015 – $29.99