"Best Rosato from Terre Nere in years" — Ian d'Agata, Vinous Media The volcanic mountain of Etna—still active, still changing the terroir every day—has proven to be a remarkable place to make wine. Etna now lays claim to true Italian wine-region greatness, alongside Piedmont and Tuscany. It's just that nobody figured it out until quite recently (and that includes most of the locals!) The reds are becoming famous, as are, to a lesser extent, the whites. It turns out they can also make some magnificent rosato. Some of Etna's wines seem to nod towards Barolo, emphasizing structure, crushed herbs, and savory flavors. Others nod towards Burgundy, with greater focus on fruit purity, minerality, and terroir expression. Tenuta delle Terre Nere is very much in the latter camp. The Rosato is a striking example of this elegant, terroir expression. It is made entirely from Etna's noble grape, Nerello Mascalese, grown in the black (nere) volcanic soils that made Terre Nere famous. It's a gorgeous salmon-colored pink and has a laser-like Burgundian focus on fruit (red berries) with the exotically mineral expressions of Mount Etna lying just beneath the surface. Terre Nere, Etna Rosato, 2016 - $21.99
If you've traveled around Italy, you know things change fast. The ragù in one town is nothing like the ragù two towns over. The cheese in one valley is completely unknown on the other side of the hills. Perhaps only Japan can rival Italy in its incredible tapestry of hyper-local specialties. It's what makes Italy such a fascinating place for eating, drinking, and exploring. Today's exploring brings us north of the Langhe, past Turin and into the mountains. We're still in Piedmont, but only just. If we went any farther we'd be in the truly Alpine country of the Vallée d'Aoste. This is Caluso and Carema, where our friend Luigi Ferrando makes some of the most beautiful Nebbiolos of Alto Piemonte—or anywhere. But Luigi also makes incredible mountain whites—exactly as you'd expect in the hills below Mont Blanc. He grows Erbaluce one of Italy's hyper-local treasures. It's virtually unknown as close as 50 miles away, but in this valley it's the white grape—and a special one at that. It has a magical combination of weight and naturally high acidity, kind of like Chenin Blanc. So, like Chenin, it's used to produce sweet and sparkling wines as well as dry. But today we have the dry wine for you. Its rich side is almost honeyed, but the high-altitude acidity and mineral tension give it a vibrant life-force. There is stone fruit and fresh-cut flowers. It is remarkably good for such an obscure variety. Why do such great things not spread? How did Erbaluce remain so hyper-local? For a practical reason: it's very hard to grow. It's susceptible to disease and it buds early, making it susceptible to frost. And even when it grows, it's low-yielding. In short, Erbaluce is not a natural choice for anyone who needs to make a living producing wine. But it's a natural choice for us! Delicious and refreshing and very complex for the price, it's also something more: a rare window into a tiny corner of Italy's amazing wine-scape.
“If I hadn't met Anselme [Selosse] I would not be making the wines I make today.” - Fred Minière So many of today's great Champagne growers trace their roots back to Anselme Selosse. It's amazing that some of them still fly under the radar. But it's likely the case that you haven't heard of Fred Minière, who worked for Selosse in the 1990s before deciding, with his brother Rodolphe, to convert the family domaine into an all-organic grower-producer working in Selosse's Burgundian style. You are not to blame for your ignorance. It was only after their father retired in 2007 that the brothers could take over and run things like they wanted. And it's only recently that their wines have made it to America. The quantities don't help. They have eight hectares of vines, but they only keep the best fruit—about four hectares' worth—for their own wines (they sell the rest to big houses). The vines, in their home village of Hermonville in the Vallée de la Marne, tend to be quite old and include a parcel of ungrafted Chardonnay. Honestly, until just a few weeks ago we didn't know about Minière either. But one of the perks of living (and dining) in New York, is the wine lists put together and served by knowledgeable and passionate people. And when we saw a Blanc de Blancs we didn't recognize on Rebelle's wine list, we knew it would be worth checking out. Boy, was it ever! The Absolu is a single-vineyard Blanc de Blancs from Les Grands Blancs, where the domaine's ungrafted Chardonnay is located, as well as other Chardonnay vines planted in the 1960s. It is 80% 2008 vintage and 20% 2007. And it's delicious. We could taste the Selosse influence in the wine's fruit precision and white Burgundy vibe, but the structure and style seemed a little more classical, calling to mind the barrel-produced wines of traditionalist boutique houses like Krug or Jacquesson. It's a powerful Champagne, but with enough age (six years on the lees and two more after disgorgement) that its parts have settled into a wonderfully harmonious wine. A couple weeks later we tried the vintage 2008 Brut Zero. Here the Chardonnay is blended with Pinots Meunier and Noir. With no dosage, this veered a little more towards the Selosse end of the spectrum. It's a less powerful Champagne with greater emphasis on crystals and minerals. Some will prefer this style; others the Absolu. Taste is like that. Champagne Minière F & R, Cuvée Brut Zero, 2008 - $65.99 Champagne Minière F & R, Cuvée Absolu, [2008/2007] - $73.99
For a while the wine world talked about New California—the wave of new producers like Arnot-Roberts, Cruse, and Donkey & Goat, that made wines of finesse and drinkability—in contrast to the point-seeking monsters of the Parker era. But critics were quick to dispute the "New" designation, because California had a long history of making elegant wines. They pointed to famous producers like Ridge, Mayacamas and Heitz. Those names are well known. Here is one that may be new to you: Santa Cruz Mountain Winery. The Napa Valley is California's most famous wine region, but many think that the greatest terroir is actually in Santa Cruz. Here you have a range of altitudes, a complex mix of soils, and a strong ocean breeze. On the western, ocean-facing side, you have particularly cool sites perfect for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Facing the Silicon Valley, you have warmer sites that are capable—just—of ripening Bordeaux varieties. Anyone who has tasted Ridge's Monte Bello or Rhys's top Pinots knows the sub-region's great potential. Santa Cruz Mountain Winery only started distributing in New York recently, but the winery wasn't entirely new to us. Several years ago we stumbled upon some Pinot Noirs made by the winery in the 1970s, mixed in with some better-known wines that we had acquired. We started reading and were amazed to discover tasting notes on their web site of Pinots going back to 1975 (they're still posted there). They noted that the wines could need up to 30 years of cellaring, and that Frenchmen confused them with the great wines of Burgundy. Really? So we tasted, and were stunned. These were 30- to 40-year-old Pinots that had aged better than 90% of Burgundies from the same era. We had questions. What happened to this winery? Did they still make wines? Why has no one heard of them? Can we get more? It took a few years, but everything has come together. The winery, of course, is still around, and they visited our shop and we tasted some wine. The line-up was brilliant, and exactly in the style we imagined. These were Old examples of New California, elegant wines of balance and finesse that promised drinkability and pleasure in their youth, but also longevity and complexity for the patient. There was one little surprise, and that was that the easy star of the line-up was the Cabernet Sauvignon! It probably shouldn't have been a surprise, since Monte Bello, arguably the best site in all of California for Cabernet Sauvignon, is in Santa Cruz. And Santa Cruz Mountain Winery's 100% Cabernet is from the Luchessi Vineyard, which is just a touch northeast of Monte Bello. The vines are almost 40 years and yield very little fruit. Alcohol levels are modest. We were lucky to taste the 2013, maybe the best vintage in recent memory. The wine is like the Cabernet version of the great Pinots we tasted from the 1970s. It's not shy about being Cab; the fruit is front and center. But it's fresh and drinkable (and food-friendly)—not a bottle you'll have any trouble finishing. But it also has a quiet sophistication to it. There are flavors—Santa Cruz Mountain earthiness, call it—that hit you here and there. It's not a wine that tries too hard, and yet every taste tells you it will go the distance. The winery says that it will cellar easily for two or three decades. We believe them. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon “Luchessi Vineyard”, 2013