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
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.
Recently, I had the pleasure of going on a Rioja DOCa Trade Tour, sponsored by the Consejo 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). Rioja 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 because 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.
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.