What to drink this weekend in San Francisco- Volume 2, Issue No. 9

 

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If there’s one thing I’ve discovered San Francisco and New York have in common it is definitely the enjoyment of brunch. During my 9 years living in NYC, brunch took on an almost religious routine in my life: the weary and ravenous gathering together for a hodgepodge of sustenance and the hair-of-the-dog. Brunch in San Francisco is equally regular and revered albeit a shade or two more healthful.  Personally, I love the brunches at Nopa and Foreign Cinema and am always impressed with the balance on the menus of sinful and more saintly options. However, what’s a new experience for me, is that it’s an event hosted at home. Eating in an apartment in New York is a bit too close quarters for most people, especially for the fully pickled rough-and-ready residents of the boroughs. But in San Francisco where square footage is more plentiful, though certainly not less expensive, it’s an opportunity to share home cooking in an intimate and unhurried setting.

Accomplished amateur mixologists notwithstanding, often I’m being employed to choose wines for such occasions, whether it be my own or for one of my customers. Here’s what I’ve enjoyed during weekend brunches past which I hope will be a source of inspiration for upcoming late-morning, weekend meals.

This past weekend my beautiful wife surprised me with last minute brunch plans with friends at our house. Though I love being the head chef of the family, her plans roughly translate to me being booked as a personal chef in the morning hours before I go to work. When I need to make a meal for a group in a pinch that is easy, has minimal ingredients and holds well, I turn to Tortilla Espanola. One of my favorite tapas when I was living in Spain was room temperature wedges of simply seasoned potato and onion held together by egg. It’s a subtle, but filling dish that provides a rich base for a number of adult morning beverages.

My choice for a morning that the more egg-centric brunchers will enjoy is a fruity Lambrusco, the often misunderstood sparkling red wine of Italy. On this occasion, we drank the 2017 Medici Ermete Lambrusco Concerto, a bright sparkling purple wine filled with fresh, ripe flavors of juicy strawberries, soft raspberries and blackberries, with a gentle touch of sour cherry at the end. If you have a sweet tooth in the morning use a lambrusco instead of a still wine to make an AM Sangria. Swap out the brandy for a half-bottle of blood orange vermouth if you can find it.

I’m all for going against the grain with wine pairings, but one I will happily not is breakfast and riesling. Riesling, with its spring-like floral, fresh fruit qualities, invigorating acidity and touch of residual sugar is almost a breakfast in itself. Take the 2017 Muller-Catoir “Haardt” Riesling for instance. Though this bottling is a dry trocken style, it has tightly wound, but still ripe, meyer lemon and tangerine notes that juxtapose nicely with a whole range of brunch favorites. In a previous post, I celebrated the bounty of citrus winter brings to San Francisco. What better meal to feature such peak of the season produce than a brunch salad of bitter chicories, Cara Cara oranges and honey-spiked citrus mustard vinaigrette. The fruit and acidity of the wine meet the bitterness of escarole and Castelfranco radicchio at its apex, which has the effect of taming both extremes.

Finally, for those, like myself, are more savory brunchers the sweeter beverages served often feel inappropriate. I love Bloody Marys and micheladas as much as anyone but those also don’t feel like a symbiotic and seamless pairings for dishes like chicken fried steak or a medium-rare breakfast burger. If the occasion calls for it, I don’t think we should be afraid of entertaining a red wine for brunch. Something light makes the most sense, particularly something with gentle fruit and minerality like the alpine wines of Italy.

Giuseppe Mascarello’s 2016 Langhe Freisa “Toetto” is one that I thoroughly enjoyed recently that would work.  Freisa is a relative of Nebbiolo that produces tannic, but still delicate wine with a remarkable nose of strawberries, violets and roses. On the palate, the fruit is translated to a mineral-nuanced flavor with touches of briar and herbs making it a textural complement to rich dishes with beef or pork.

If it’s a meal shared with friends then it’s a meal that deserves wine, no matter the time of day. Now that I’m fully starving and my own Saturday brunch plans are still a full day away I wish all of you a happy weekend and delicious brunching.

The New York Times’ Best Wines Under $20

The New York Times’ Best Wines Under $20

From the beginning, our philosophy has been simple: buy wines made by small producers, families and artisans that honestly reflect the world’s great terroirs and traditions. The New York Times’ latest list of the 20 best wines under $20 has just been released, and we couldn’t be more pleased to see which bottles made the cut.

The theme of this list aligns decisively with the type of wine we love to drink and sell—those bottles that speak of where they come from and the individuals who crafted them. When a vigneron spends each day amongst the vines or in the cellar, he or she has no choice but to focus on the quality of the wine.

Even with a full cellar, it can be difficult to open a special bottle on an otherwise nondescript day—and this is where a wine from the list below comes into play. While good wines can be found in any price range, there are so many wines in the $15-20 range that meet all of our needs. They are delicious, they are complex, and perhaps most importantly, they are affordable. Once again, Eric Asimov presents us with a diverse and compelling list of wines, most of which we were able to obtain for you.

It is with great pleasure that we offer a selection of the Times’ picks.

As soon as this article is published, the wines will almost immediately disappear from the marketplace. This is your chance to beat the rush!

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Oddero, Barbera d’Alba Superiore, 2015 $16.99
Classic, but lifted, Barbera from a family winery in Barolo, dating back to the 18th century. There is ample cherry and blackberry fruit, enlivened by a hit of pepper and fine tannins. For pizza, pasta or antipasti, this is a no-brainer.

Happs, Margaret River Sémillon, 2014 $16.99
Hailing from one of the most remote wine regions in the world, this Sémillon is both fresh and rich, with a golden hue and a luxurious texture. There are notes of citrus, especially mandarin, and dry wildflower honey. A gorgeous wine on its own or with lighter food.

Lambert de Seyssel, Petit Royal de Seyssel Methode Traditionelle, NV $19.99
A remarkably complex sparkling wine from the Savoie, this is made up of two obscure, indigenous grapes: Molette and Altesse. Molette brings acidity and citrusy notes, while Altesse brings complexity and a lovely floral bouquet. Two years aging sur latte ensures toastiness and a long, lingering finish. You don’t need an excuse to pop open a bottle of bubbly when it’s this delicious and this affordable.

Raul Perez, Bierzo Ultreia Saint Jacques Mencía, 2017 $19.99
Mencía is perennially one of our favorite grapes, and Raúl Perez’s, bolstered with a bit of Bastardo (also known as Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (alias Alicante Bouschet) packs a lot of power into one bottle. Perez is one of the finest winemakers working today in Spain, and his entry-level bottlings show true finesse. Bright red berries and cacao dominate here.

Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, Pfalz Wachenheimer Dry Riesling, 2017 $18.99
Riesling grown in the Pfalz, Germany’s warmest region, can yield remarkably aromatic and elegant dry wines. Bürklin-Wolf’s Estate Riesling is dry, yet juicy and redolent with stone fruit and lime leaves. All of their farming is biodynamic, and 2017’s long, warm summer makes for a delicious wine that expertly combines power and grace.

Empire Estate, Finger Lakes Riesling Dry, 2017 $17.99
This little dazzler starts with blossom, peach, and pear on the nose, and the palate is dry as a bone full of minerality, lemon pith, and a cool limeade finish. It’s reminiscent of Rieslings from Australia’s Clare Valley, but with an assertive, kaleidoscopic verve than reminds us of Keller.

La Palazzetta di Flavio, Rosso di Montalcino, 2017 $19.99
This is a gorgeous example of young Sangiovese, grown organically and intended to be drunk young. Its fresh acidity and luminous red fruit make for an all-around delectable wine. It has a lovely floral aroma, with a touch of violets, and buoyant, cheerful fruit.

Sidonio de Sousa, Bairrada Reserva Tinto, 2015 $18.99
Baga is one of a myriad of characterful grapes indigenous to Portugal, and this wine is 100% Baga and tastes sort of like Cabernet Franc meets Trousseau. Spicy, herbaceous, fruity, and fresh. Truly one of the best wines under $20 we’ve ever tasted. Really a knock-out at this price.

Domaine Bru-Baché, Jurançon Sec, 2015 $16.99
Bone dry, with waxy yellow fruit and hints of ginger, this is an elegant and versatile sipper. Gros Manseng produces crisp and complex wines, and thanks to the limestone and clay on which they are grown, wines of intense minerality. Jurançon is perhaps an unknown quantity to many, but one which we all should be acquainted with.

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Clos de Gilroy Monterey County Grenache, 2017 $16.99
Mostly Grenache, enlivened by a little Mourvèdre, this is all dazzling red fruit—raspberries and sour cherry—but there’s plenty of earth and graphite to keep it all grounded and balanced. It is easy-drinking and charming, makes a perfect accompaniment to lighter fare, and is best served with a slight chill, for ultimate refreshment.

Broadside, Paso Robles Margarita Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016 $19.99
This is Classic California Cabernet, with a lighter touch. Grown at 1,000 feet above sea level, with cool winds whipping off of the Pacific Ocean, this wine captures all of the blackcurrant, plum and blackberry notes we expect in Cabernet Sauvignon, with notes of fresh herbs (mint, rosemary) and earth that boost its

Guillaume Clusel, Coteaux du Lyonnais “Traboules”, 2017 $16.99
Unusually for the Northern Rhone, this delightful wine is made from 100% Gamay, and it encapsulates what we love about both the Rhone and Beaujolais—lithe, energetic red fruit, crushed Provençal herbs and just enough structure to make things interesting. This is an all-purpose wine, to drink with food or with nothing at all. Serve slightly below room temperature.

Domaine Filliatreau, Saumur-Champigny, 2017 $18.99
Classic Saumur-Champigny (perhaps the most under-valued AOC of the Loire, even with the influence of Clos Rougeard—baffling!), with ripe cherries, dried herbs and electric minerality. Supple and elegant, this is a wonderful example of vibrant Loire Valley Cabernet Franc from a producer dedicated to biodiversity and sustainability.

Grifalco, Aglianico del Vulture “Gricos”, 2016 $18.99
100% estate-grown fruit from younger vines, this is Aglianico for drinking young. It has all of the spice and grip of Southern Italy’s favorite red grape, made in a fresh and forward style. This is smoky, peppery and plummy, all at once, thanks to the unique volcanic terroir of Vulture.

Château Massereau, Bordeaux Superieur, 2016 $19.99
Massereau is simply one of the best values in the entire Bordeaux region. The viticulture is so diligent and the winemaking so unobtrusive, that you could consider this a natural wine. But the well-delineated flavors, redolent of of dark forest fruits and wild herbs, are as classic as it gets.

L’Umami, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2017 $19.99
Truffles and mushrooms galore in this little Willamette bottling. There is some a splash of red cherry, a kiss of oak, and a dash of baking spices in what is a killer value for Pinot Noir from Oregon.

Foxglove (Varner), Zinfandel Paso Robles, 2015 $16.99
Classic Cali Zin from Paso Robles, which is known for big, rich reds with hints of chocolate and spice. Although it’s quite brambly, it’s not jammy or cloying. No, this wine is fresh and dark-fruited, full of plums, blackberries and dark cherry, and it is a fantastic value for a great example of California winemaking heritage.

2017 Burgundy Vintage: A Follow-Up

Now that I’ve actually tasted some 2017s from Burgundy; it’s time to follow up my earlier post on the 2017s with some actual impressions, based on tasting.

This blog follows a single event: the barrel tasting of Burgundies imported by Frederick Wildman for the trade, held February of every year. I tasted a lot of wines at the event and I also talked extensively with producers and other tasters. Here were my five main take-aways:

1.  2017 is a really good vintage, perhaps just short of being one of the legends like 2005 or 2010. 

The 2017s I tasted were delicious. They were balanced and fully ripe. They were transparent, accurately reflecting their respective terroirs. I really, really liked them. Did I have quite the same feeling I got when I tasted wines from 2005 or 2010? No. This may not be the vintage to buy with bequeathing to your grandkids in mind, but it is a great vintage to buy for drinking now, in ten years or, for top wines, in 20 years. To give it some more context, I thought these were a little better than the 2014s — a vintage that I really adored — as they had just a little more substance and ripeness, but also 2014’s freshness and transparency.

2.  This is not a problem vintage.

This may seem kind of obvious, given point #1. But, it’s a point worth making in a different way here. One of the most useful things I’ve learned at these Wildman barrel tastings is whether a vintage has any real problems. The very first tasting I attended was the 2004 vintage. My tasting book from that event was filled with comments like “what is that green note?”.  A few months later, the wine chat boards on the internet were filled with discussions about the “greeny meanies” that have plagued 2004s ever since. I similarly noticed the phenolic under-ripeness of the 2011s, wondered about the high acidity in 2008, and so on. This is all to say, when a vintage has a problem, you can tell at this barrel tasting. The 2017s are problem-free. There is simply no reason to avoid or be wary of this vintage.

3.  Some people have been under-estimating this vintage…sort of.  

Although the most widely-followed Burgundy critics have had very high praise for the 2017s, we’ve heard lots of people referring to this vintage as a “restaurant” vintage, often comparing the 2017s to the 2000s and the 2007s. To be fair, they do not mean this to be insulting. It is great to have “restaurant” vintages (vintages that you can drink young), and both the 2000s and the 2007s have ended up aging much better than expected (I mean, wow, the top wines from 2000 are so good today!). To the extent that the 2017s follow this pattern, nobody should be disappointed. But my own impression tasting the 2017s last week — and this was a view shared by virtually all the other tasters that I spoke with — is that these wines are considerably more serious than either the 2007s or 2000s. My guess is that the wines have gained a little weight since those early impressions were first formed. It is true that the tannins are not at all aggressive, making the wines far more approachable in their youth. But the wines otherwise seem far more structured than either earlier vintage and they really seem like wines that will age very well, if not for as long as, say, the 2015s.

4.  This is not a vintage that obviously favors red wines or white wines.  

Some of the earlier reports I read or heard about suggested that white was stronger than red.  My impression form this event was that the reds were slightly better (and more serious!) than expected — as noted in #3, above — and that while I loved most of the whites I tasted I did find some of them to be just a touch too creamy and lacking the slightest bit of definition. They did not seem as crispy and crystalline as, say, the 2014s — though many of them really were excellent. My impressions may change over time, but for now, having slightly upgraded the reds and slightly downgraded the whites I’m now pretty much equally bullish on both colors of Burgundy from 2017.

5.  Chablis is a sweet spot. 

As I mentioned in my first post, there seemed to be a wide range of opinion on Chablis from 2017. I tasted only from two producers — Christian Moreau and Billaud-Simon — but I loved them both! The Moreaus, in particular, were stronger than every vintage I have tasted since 2010, except maybe the 2014s. The difference between these 2017s and the 2014s is that the 2014s had a touch of austerity to them while the 2017s already give lots of pleasure. This might suggest that the 2014s will out-perform in the long run, and they probably will, but I did sense that there was plenty of power and stuffing lurking beneath the pretty 2017 fruit and I’m very confident that they will keep nicely as well.

 


This was, of course, just a small sampling of producers. There is plenty more to taste, and very few of the wines have even been bottled yet. Impressions will surely evolve, but with few exceptions over the years, my general vintage assessments, based on the Wildman tasting, have held up pretty well.

Another little observation not directly related to the wine: When I first started going to these tastings, only buyers from the top restaurants and retailers would come. Over the years, things have become more democratic, and I was really surprised at how well and how broadly attended this year’s event was. I’ve long expected trickle-down effects in the Burgundy market, and maybe that’s finally happening. By that I mean that all the immense hype at the very top level of Burgundy — DRC, Roumier and all that — is now spreading out across Burgundy and across the market, so now even smaller retailers are getting in the game by carrying wines from lesser-known corners of Burgundy. This is probably a great thing for Burgundy, though it does mean that we’re inevitably going to see even second-tier producers becoming far more tightly allocated. Oh well.

As I post this we are now in the midst of our Wildman pre-sale campaign, offering a lot of what they import had the best prices you’re likely to find in the U.S. Please be sure to email us if you’re not already on our list getting our pre-sale offers.

School is in Session: Nebbiolo from Valtellina

A beautiful aspect of the study of wine is exploring the expression of one grape in multiple landscapes—the idea of terroir. In his latest Wine School, Eric Asimov returns to the world of classically styled wines, introducing us to the wines of Valtellina, made with the Nebbiolo grape. While most of us are probably familiar with Barolo, Barbaresco or Langhe Nebbiolo, Valtellina wines offer an altogether entirely different experience.

We’ve been guilty of proliferating the idea that Nebbiolo will fail to thrive if planted outside of its home base of Piedmont—of course, we’re thinking only of the occasional attempt out of California to create New World Barolo or Barbaresco, not the elegant and earthy wines from the steep hills of Valtellina, in Lombardy.

Although it’s located just northeast of Piedmont, Valtellina seems a world away. Here, the Nebbiolo grape is known as Chiavennasca, the language is markedly not Italian, and the terrain is precipitously terraced. It is only thanks to the vineyards’ Southern exposure that the grapes ripen at all, in such a cool and mountainous region.

While wines from Valtellina have all of the crunchy red fruit and distinct tannins of Nebbiolo from Piedmont, the acidity and finesse are amplified, thanks to the cool air coming off of the nearby Alps, Pò River and the region’s many lakes. The silky texture and clear, singing fruit is very nearly reminiscent of great red Burgundy; perhaps it’s the the intermix of power and grace that leads to such conclusions.

Like Nebbiolo from Piedmont or Alto Piemonte, these wines provide an excellent foil to a diverse selection of dishes: classic Italian fare, from pizza to osso buco, is a no-brainer, but don’t stop there. Mushroom-centric dishes bring earthiness to match the herbaceousness and acidity of the wine; something decadent, like a risotto Milanese would make an excellent tablemate.

Check out the New York Times’ selections:

Ar. Pe. Pe., Valtellina Rosso, 2015 $36.99
Ar.Pe.Pe. can be considered the Bartolo Mascarello of Valtellina, with its rigorously traditional approach to wine and it excellent quality. The Rosso is a great juicy and fresh introduction to their exquisite Nebbiolo. Licorice, bright red cherry and mountain air make for a spectacularly elegant bottle of wine.

Sandro Fay, Valtellina Superiore Valgella “Ca Morei”, 2015 $37.99
This shares many of the classic characteristics of great Barolo—anise, fresh and dried cherry, dusty rose petals, leather—with fine tannins and just a hint of spice. Whether you’re drinking now or a decade from now, you’ll find great pleasure here.

Aldo Rainoldi, Valtellina Superiore Grumello, 2015 $38.99
From some of the finest vines in Valtellina, this is wine meant for aging. This wine shows some of the earthier, darker nuances of Nebbiolo: smoke, dark cherry and dusky herbs. The hillsides are so steep that the grapes have to be taken back to the winery via helicopter!

Aldo Rainoldi, Rosso di Valtellina, 2017 $23.99
Delicious and approachable in its youth, this combines freshness with gorgeous, supple fruit. It is aromatic and lifted, with notes of bright red cherry and berries.

 

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Looking forward to the week ahead in San Francisco- February 11th, 2019

Friends of Flatiron,

Happy Valentines day! Some people aren’t the biggest fans of this holiday, but at Flatiron we embrace any celebration of love. And of course, our #1 love is delicious wine! Come taste some wine and take a look at our newsletter and fall in love yourself. Whether you’re paired up or enjoying the single life there are ample reasons to raise a glass.

In-Store Tastings:

Wednesday 2/13, Meet the Winemaker: Kyle Jeffrey from Minus TideFounded by Kyle Jeffrey, Brad Jonas, and Miriam Pitt, Minus Tide is focused on making cool-climate, balanced wines that showcase the distinct, coastal, and rustic vineyards of Mendocino, California. Come taste the flavor of the far north and check out what Kyle is pouring. $5/tasting 

Thursday 2/14, Special Valentines Day Rose Tasting at 5pm: Whether you’re married, dating, single or have a crush there’s always a reason to enjoy a glass of blush. Sparkling, still and definitely some Champagne, coming in for the tasting will definitely up your game. $5/tasting

Friday 2/15, Meet the Winemaker: Scott Young from Young Inglewood at 5pm: We love Scott Young here at Flatiron. Not only is he part of the family but his wines are off the charts! Young Inglewood is a prime example of a neoclassical Napa winery. His wines are restrained in style but still unmistakably Californian. This is an opportunity to taste the future of Napa and to grab a few bottles before the rest of the world gets savvy. $5/tasting

In our weekly newsletter we’ll be offering a perfect wine for Valentines day, Arnot-Roberts Rose 2018, the 2017 Anjous from Thibaud Boudignon, amazing value from Burgundy with Dureuil-Janthial’s Passetoutgrain as well as an offer on a smattering of Rose Champagnes to tickle your fancy.

Cheers!

Your Friends at Flatiron Wines SF

Don’t want to miss a beat? Sign-up for our newsletter already!  As loyal subscribers already know, the newsletter is not only the best place to get first crack at your favorite, hard-to-find wines at special discounts but it’s also where we go in great depth about the producers, vintages, regions and trends in the world of fine wine.

We send it once a week on Wednesday, unless, you elect to receive more. You can do so by using the form below or, here, if our site’s sophisticated technology isn’t functioning as described. 😉

Looking forward to the week ahead in San Francisco- February 4th, 2019

Friends of Flatiron,

Valentines Day is just over a week away and you know what that means: time to pop a cork and drink a glass! Stay ahead of the curve and stop in for an impromptu date at one of our tastings and snag a bottle or three from our newsletter for that special dinner you’re planning.

In-Store Tastings:

Wednesday 2/6, Tasting of Cavas from Raventos i Blanc at 5pm: When you’re not drinking Champagne you should be drinking Cava. And if you’re drinking Cava then you should be drinking Raventos I Blanc. The Raventos family was the family that first invented Cava and today makes arguably the best sparkling wines in the entire Iberian Peninsula. Join us for a tasting of their sparkling wines and bring home a few for date night. $5/tasting 

Thursday 2/7, A Pan-European wine tasting with Wine Wise at 5pm: Since 1989, WineWise has been importing some of the finest estate-grown wines from France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Join us for a wide ranging tasting experience with wines from across the continent. $5/tasting

Friday 2/8, Meet the Winemaker: Brianne Day of Day Wines at 5pm: There is a rising star in the Oregon wine scene and her name is Brianne Day. If what you look for in a winery is a producer that challenges the status quo and pushes the boundaries then Day Wines is perfect for you. Check out her super-geeky Vermentino-based Pet Nat Mamacita, her Oregonian take on an Alsatian Edelzwicker Vin Days as well as her lively natural Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. $5/tasting

In our weekly newsletter we’ll be offering fresh faced 2017 releases from Broc Cellars, the delicious Chambolle-Musigny wines from Domaine Francois Bertheau as well as the 2017’s from cult Brouilly producer Jean-Claude Lapalu.

Cheers!

Your Friends at Flatiron Wines SF

Don’t want to miss a beat? Sign-up for our newsletter already!  As loyal subscribers already know, the newsletter is not only the best place to get first crack at your favorite, hard-to-find wines at special discounts but it’s also where we go in great depth about the producers, vintages, regions and trends in the world of fine wine.

We send it once a week on Wednesday, unless, you elect to receive more. You can do so by using the form below or, here, if our site’s sophisticated technology isn’t functioning as described. 😉

What to drink this weekend in San Francisco- Volume 2, Issue No. 8

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The magic of wild foraged mushrooms is a delight I have normally reserved for mid-autumn or early spring cooking. So imagine my surprise when I saw pile upon pile of freshly picked fungi at the local farmers market. While the rest of our country freezes, Northern California is blessed with these lovely on-again-off-again rains which also happen to be perfect mushroom weather! Going into another weekend soaked by the aforementioned atmospheric conditions I figured why not celebrate the gloom and cook up some tasty shrooms.

To love a mushroom is to love wine and vice versa for me. After all, the two are inextricably linked. Yeast is a form of fungi and wine is a product of its life cycle. My favorite wines are ones that honor this connection both in regards to their flavor and bouquet as well as their genesis, being made naturally with indigenous yeasts.

Amongst these, the incredible Pinot Noirs from Enderle & Moll in Baden, Germany immediately come to mind. Sven Enderle and Florian Moll are defining the Spatburgunder (aka Pinot Noir) revolution in Germany at the moment. Biodynamic in the vineyard and natural in the cellar, their Pinots are a reflection of the land and the microbes that gave rise to them. In the glass these wines are beguiling with a style that is both masculine and feminine in nature. I paired this wine with a surprisingly easy to make meal of teriyaki-inspired king oyster mushrooms. The delicately floral nose works with the dishes sweetness while the crunchy mineral quality on the palate enhances the similar flavors in the meaty king oyster mushrooms.

If there’s one region that immediately comes to mind when thinking of wild mushroom pairings it’s the white wines of Somlo in central Hungary. The wines from this region are some of the most earthy and mineral whites I’ve ever tasted and are a symbiotic pairing with a number of mushroom dishes. Known as the “Hat of God”, Somlo is a quirk of geology. In the midst of flat plane sits the worn bump of an extinct volcano that, millions of years ago, resided deep under the ocean. That means the soil composition is both marine and volcanic while the climate is continental, a combination that seldom happens. All the wines of Somlo are white and all of the vineyards are planted on the gentle slopes of the once mighty thermal vent. Juhfark, Harslevelu and Furmint are the main varieties and all are marked by extreme mineral notes. The Apatsagi Furmint from 2016 is great introduction to the region with its richly endowed, almost Alsatian, body and a flavor that is reminiscent of paraffin, salt, and a flower filled meadow. I got a whole load of wild mushrooms and cooked up a batch of Hungarian mushroom soup which might be the best cure to the rainy day blues I’ve ever come across. Even better, this thick and creamy soup, enhanced with a healthy dose of paprika, also works as a worthy topper to a pile of buttered egg noodles. Yum!

Earlier this week I got to write about the defining winery of Valtellina, Ar.Pe.Pe. Nebbiolo, known as Chiavennasca locally, takes on a more angular and crystalline form in this Alpine region. As I wrote about the sleek and subtle Nebbiolos that the terraced mountainside vineyards produce I couldn’t help daydreaming about creamy pasta studded with wild mushrooms. Though the lean, acid-driven frame and slightly wooly tannic grip of these wines provide a definite contrast to the smooth richness of a creamy mushroom sauce, there is a earthy note that matches underneath it all. I really enjoyed the above recipe with the 2013 Grumello “Sassorosso” from Nino Negri. At $29.99 it is a remarkable value for any nebbiolo, let alone a fully fledged Grumello. Dried floral notes turn to forest floor with flavors of bright tart cherry lifting the more savory flavors.

It should be apparent after all this mycological musing that the silver lining to our rainy weather is a hearty meal of mushrooms. So don’t dread the drizzle and instead pop a bottle and get your spore on with a bounty of mid-winter wild mushrooms.

Cheers!

Zach

Burgundy Quality Levels: A Guided Tasting, at Home

Back in November, as a part of Flatiron Wines’ educational series, I hosted a class entitled ‘Burgundy:  On The Level’. In it we discussed the levels of complexity and detail to Burgundy and its Crus.

To help illustrate the how’s and why’s and the lay of the land, we first discussed a brief history of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or (Golden Slope), comprised by Côte de Nuits to the north and Côte de Beaune to the south, along one long hill.

This all boils down to Burgundy and its classifications. This is one of the most important considerations when understanding the region.

Many of the finest vineyards of Burgundy were mapped out hundreds of years ago, by the abbots and monks of the Catholic Church—in Gevrey-Chambertin, there is documentation from as early as 640 C.E. In the ensuing centuries, vineyards were further mapped and tended by the nobility of France, until the Revolution and the influence of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleonic inheritance law fractured any prior organization, in effect splitting estates and vineyards into ever-tinier parcels owned by siblings and cousins. Burgundians often joke and disagree when discussing amendments to current classifications. To change a vineyard classification could mean a lifetime (or more) of patience.

With this in mind, we explored these classifications and what to look for on a wine label.

Now, you can taste–and explore–along with us (from the comfort of your couch)!

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Are we looking at Bourgogne, a villages, Premier Cru, or Grand Cru? How can we tell a where the wine is from by the label?

  • Bourgogne wines are either from designated areas that don’t have a village, Premier Cru or Grand Cru classification OR they are declassified grapes from a classified vineyard. Grapes can be from anywhere in Burgundy.
  • Village wines are from a designated list of vineyards that are meant to producer higher quality wines than their generic counterparts. The wines do not include the words 1er Cru or Premier Cru. They can occasionally contain the name of a named vineyard. All of the grapes come from that village (or name vineyard).
  • Premier Cru wines have the village listed ALONG with the words “Premier Cru” or 1er Cru”. The Premier Cru listed is the named vineyard and implies a higher quality wine. All of the grapes must come from the designated vineyard.
  • Grand Cru list ONLY the name of the vineyard. This can be confused with the Villages. Luckily the list of Grand Cru’s is short (32 vineyards), in short supply and high in price. These are considered the creme de la creme of Burgundy.

Are the wines made the same?

  • Winemakers make and age wine according to their own philosophy; There is not a one size fits all answer.
  • Bourgogne wines rarely see any aging time in new oak and are often aged for much shorter periods of time than their village-named counterparts.
  • Premier and Grand Cru wines often see more time in some new oak barrels, or even all new barrels. They also age for a longer time before being released.
  • Often times Grand Cru wines come from vineyards located in the prime sirloin of the slope–the middle–where we tend to find an ideal balance of limestone and clay–thus providing the prime components to provide a wine with structure and succulent fruit. These are usually, but not always, vin de garde, or wine for aging. Of course, this is dependent on the individual producer.

Why is one wine $25.00 and the other $130.00?

  • Each designation is a smaller amount of land on which less wine can be produced.
  • Centuries ago, the Benedictine monks who mapped out the vineyards designated where the very best wines could be made.
  • The production costs at “better” sites is often higher than for those from regional sites. (New oak barrels are EXPENSIVE.)

Burgundy Quality Levels (3)

As we tasted four different wines, of the same vintage, from Côte de Nuits producer, Jerome Chézeaux (Regional, Villages, 1er Cru, Grand Cru) we discussed the differences in each.

  • Where in the village is the vineyard located?
  • Where on the slope might we find these vines?
  • How do the wines differ from each other in character?
  • Are we noticing increased length on the palate when we taste Bourgogne Rouge next to Clos Vougeot Grand Cru?
  • What was the vinification and élévage (how long a wine is aged and in what sort of vessel, before bottling), and how these choices in the cellar impact the profile of the wine?

One of the main points of discussion and an often asked question:

How will this wine change as it ages?

  • A fascinating question, as we often find that in Burgundy the answers to these questions remain fairly uniform. Bourgogne level wines are usually meant to be enjoyed young with plenty of fresh fruit and vibrancy. A perfect addition to a mid-week meal.
  • A climb up the classification ladder offers the opportunity for longer aging, greater development and incredible complexity. The wines made from better grapes and are often more concentrated to start. The vibrant fruit starts to age into beautiful mushroom, truffle, spice, tilled earth, smoke, herbal and a slew of other interesting tertiary aromas and flavors. The structure (acid and tannin) is more prevalent in higher quality wines and sometimes even unenjoyable in their youth. As the wines age the structure and flavors integrate while the tannins settle out, leaving a silk or velvet texture.

How do I know when my wine is ready to drink?

  • Ask your friendly neighborhood retailer! We can’t emphasize this enough! We are a resource at your disposal. Each vineyard, vintage and producer creates a myriad of answers to this question. Everyone enjoys wines at different ages and different styles. The best thing you can do it start drinking and exploring to find out what suits you best. There are plenty of books and online sources with lots of opinions out there. We are happy to help answer any questions you have regarding specific wines! We are happy to help you no matter where you are in your wine journey. Want to know what those 32 Grand Cru sites are? Or, what our favorite wine resource (online or in print) of the moment is? Stop by, and ask away!

Our classroom was full of guests with insightful thoughts and questions. Conversations flowed and many familiar faces returned to the store the very next day to continue the discussion. Our most coveted wines were the Bourgogne and 1er Cru Boudots. For such a young wine (2015), the 1er Cru Boudots was open and fleshy, yet displayed an early glimpse into what one might expect in a gloriously aged Burgundy.

The beauty of the wines of Chézeaux was clearly displayed on this chilly pre-holiday November evening. With a vast and comprehensive selection of Burgundy, we invite you to come into the shop and explore all that this fine region has to offer. Whether a satisfying Bourgogne to pair with your favorite roast chicken recipe or a special bottle of Grand Cru to enjoy alongside truffles – Flatiron has you covered.

If you want to learn more about wine, or about our education series, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and check “Education” as an interest when prompted.

To Burgundy and Back Again: 2018 Hospices de Beaune

Last year, on the third Sunday of November, the 158th annual wine auction was held at the Hospices de Beaune. People from all over the world meet in the historic walled city of Beaune, the “wine capital of Burgundy.” It is a treasure trove of medieval and renaissance architecture. There are still ramparts and a moat and battlements, fortresses and castles of the Dukes of Burgundy and the royal fortress of the Chateau de Beaune built in the 15th century for King Louis XI.

In the center of this bustling metropolis of 20,000 people is the Hospices de Beaune, a flamboyant masterpiece of Gothic architecture capped with a glorious roof of polychromed tile. This is a free hospital for the citizens of Burgundy. It opened in 1452 as the region was recovering from the dual ravages of the black pague and the enduring misery of the Hundred Years war.  Over many generations, winegrowers have donated fine vineyards to this great institution. The annual auction of wine by the barrels refills the coffers.  It is a great event and an excuse for the world of wine to meet in Beaune and party.
This particular year, I was there for a very quick week. Arrived Thursday the 15th and went to “La Releve – Salon de Jeunes Vignerons”.  A new generation of very young winemakers, the next generation of historic domaines. Everyone was about 25 years old. The domaines included Pascal Bouley, Chavy-Chouet, Y. Clerget, Philippe Colin, Topiary, Simon Colin, Edmond Cornu, Michel Niellon, Dufouleur, Arnaud Ente, J-M Gaunoux, Henri Germain, Maison Goichot, Alain Gras, Henri Delagrange, Joblot, J-L Joillot, Lucien Muzard, F & L Pillot, J-M Pillot, J-C Ramonet, Arnoux Pere et Fils, Caroline Morey & PYCM, Lafouge, Geantet-Pansiot, Confuron-Gindre and on and on… and on.
I then had dinner at La Superbe where I saw a Burgundy exporter with whom I work, having dinner with some of her best clients from Hong Kong, Singapore and Amsterdam. We shared greetings and a glass of champagne. I claimed the seat I had reserved at the counter and had scallops in the shell with chorizo and 2014 J-M Roulot Bourgogne Blanc. Crispy sweetbreads with girolles in creme and a glass of 2012 Pavelot Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Guettes”. Pavlova for dessert. Great food and very good wine by the glass.
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A spooky, foggy Friday in Morey-Saint-Denis.

On a spooky, foggy Friday, I went to Morey-Saint-Denis. It was almost raining and very damp, good for growing mushrooms. The weather is always like this around the Hospices auction. I tasted at a couple of my favorite domaines including Dujac. (I wish I could buy more of their wines.) Beautiful 2017’s, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Combottes, Vosne-Romanee er Cru Malconsorts, Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint Denis – almost painfully beautiful. Two thousand seventeen is a lovely and transparent vintage and finally, a plentiful one. The barrels in the cellars are once again full of wine. 

My old friend Pascal Marchand picked me up and we met his wife Amandine at a fantastic Nuits-Saint-Georges restaurant La Cabotte. You always see great winegrowers there and the Friday before the auction it was fully booked. I saw Thibault Liger-Belair and Nicolas Faure and Marie-Andrew and Marie-Christine Mugneret-Gibourg. They all got to try Nicolas Faure’s wonderful Aloxe-Corton. His domaine is all of one hectare and none of them had heard of him or tried his wine. They approved. He was thrilled to get praise from this illustrious group.

Then, I went back to Marchand-Tawse and tasted the 2017’s with Swedish buyers for the government monopoly. Very nice line up at Marchand-Tawse. Pascal asked me to come back the next day and taste the grand crus. The Swedish monopoly rarely buys any expensive wines so he did not present them to taste. My cab driver told me if I wanted to go from Beaune to Nuits-Saint-Georges on Saturday I would have to take the train because of the first day of “yellow vest” protest, the “gilets jaunes.” He was planning to stay home in Dijon with his wife and kids. As it turned out Pascal drove there in record time – because there were no police on the road.

Went to Beaune, met my friends at Becky Wasserman and Company and we drove to the Chateau de Bligny to taste 2017 & 2018 Maison des Joncs with winemaker Jae Okchu. Originally from Korea, she works at Domaine d’Eugenie during the day and is doing her own micro-domaine thing at Dominique Lafon’s custom crush facility. I had two nice 2017 reds, a Cote de Nuits Village and a Savigny les Beaune and a a 2018 red and white.  Her wines have a lovely purity and presence. I am excited to be getting ten cases of each wine, beautiful, pure, natural wines. Arriving soon with Nicolas Faure’s 2017’s.

Then, I went to a wonderful party. Everyone was there except Denis Bachelet and Aubert de Villaine. Well, to tell the truth Lalou Bize-Leroy was not there either. Everyone else was, including Santa Barbarian Jim Clendenen. Alain Gras brought a terrine of woodcock decorated with the head and wings. Olivier Merlin tucked the wings into his glasses and they looked like rabbit ears. He is a very fun man who enjoys a party.  Jean-Marc Roulot and Dominique Lafon and I were drinking Olivier Lamy’s 2010 Saint Aubin “Derriere Chez Edouard” and they said it was the best white wine there.  Olivier Lamy blushed and looked sheepish. The two kings of white burgundy giving him praise. A good time was had by all.

Saturday morning was the tasting at the Hospices de Beaune. I really enjoyed the 2018 reds and whites. Many people were talking red, but Benjamin Leroux and I both really like the whites, especially the Corton-Vergennes Cuvee Paul Chanson and the Meursault-Charmes Cuvee Albert Grivault which is from the very top of the vineyard next to Meursault-Perrieres. I liked the Volnay 1er Cru General Muteau, Corton Cuvee Charlotte Dumay and the Mazis-Chambertin Cuvee Madeleine Collignon. Ben ended up buying two barrels of the Cuvee Albert Grivault. A friend bought a barrel of this in 2015 and Pierre-Yves Colin did a beautiful job on the elevage.

Saturday night I had dinner with Pascal Marchand at the wonderful Japanese restaurant Bissoh. Amazing food. Tuna Rossini, broiled tuna topped with foie gras. A Poulet de Bresse chicken leg cut off the bone and cooked tataki style. Had a bottle of Prevost Rose Champagne Fac-Similie from the first vintage, It was fabulous. A young man came over and asked who we were.  I told him I was a caviste from NY and that we had a shop in San Francisco too. He said, “Oh, you sell all of our wines.” He was a Perrin, from Beaucastel. He was with a young woman from Vieux Telegraphe, a Torres and the people from Vega Sicilia. Hospices weekend.

Sunday there was a wonderful, simple luncheon before the auction, lentils & sausages.  I brought a bottle of 1993 Joseph Drouhin Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru and my hosts told me that I should bring a bottle to the Paulee de Meursault on Monday. So I did.  Went to the auction and got shut out. Again. A friend got a barrel of Clos de la Roche and Ben Leroux got his Meursault-Charmes.

Sunday night was back to Bissoh, I had reserved a seat at the bar. Ended up having dinner with a Burgundy exporter, a young geologist from Santa Barbara, a friend from NY who is studying in Dijon, a collector from China and the owner/winemaker Egon Muller IV of Scharzhofberg fame. He showed us all photos of the trockenbeerenauslese grapes from the 2018 harvest and explained how difficult it is to make such a labor intensive wine. He also said that making eiswein was easy, you just had to get up very early and pick frozen grapes on the cold, dark hillside. It as fascinating to spend time with a great German winegrower in Burgundy and the typical kind of thing that happens during the crazy Hospices week.

Monday was the Paulee de Meursault, the annual party for the Burgundy growers that was founded in the mid-1920’s by Comte Lafon of Meursault. It is one of the few occasions where the growers get to see each other and share their best wines. The lunch starts at noon and ends around seven. There were almost 700 guests packed into the Chateau de Meursault.

The Paulee de Meursault used to award a barrel of Meursault to the author of the best book written about Burgundy the year previous. Many wine authors lament the fact this entire barrel is no longer awarded but the “Laureate” does get a nice parcel of Meursault and this year’s was donated by Domaine Latour-Giraud.  There is a literary prize, a scientific prize, a philosophy prize and an award to a Meursault producer. Or two. Or three. These honored Meursault producers then open the doors to their caves after the seven or eight hour lunch and continue this dionysian revel.
The guest of honor this year was prolific author Irene Frain. She is a novelist, journalist and historian, author of thirty-three books, countless essays and works of journalism. She taught at the University of la Sorbonne.  She was honored for her life’s work, fiction and non-fiction works and many social causes, particularly dealing with women’s rights and economic equality for women.  She has written about Simone de Beauvoir, Marie Curie and Phoolan Devi, the Indian bandit woman who terrorized India between 1981 and 1983.  She is an amazing author.
The food started with a foie gras dish.  Then a lovely fish, Daurade Royal.  Navarin de homard. Charolais beef.  Three cheeses.  A chocolate passion fruit dessert. Coffee. A Dionysian revel.

People bring big bottles. I had a magnum of 1999 J.F. Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Fuees”. I went with an old friend from Saint Louis and Peter Burroughs from Becky Wasserman & Co. and a fascinating German businessman who has decided to take the wine business class at the Lycee Viticole in Bordeaux. At the age of 66. He brought some fabulous wines, 2002 Rousseau Clos St Jacques, 2001 De Vogue Musigny, 2001 De Vogue Musigny, etc.  Benjamin Leroux brought some really big bottles, six liters.

Sitting behind me was Carlton McCoy Jr. the chef sommelier from The Little Nell in Aspen, CO. He was with a gentleman from Arkansas named Graylon who had just bought Heitz Cellars in Napa Valley. We ended up going to La Colombiere later that night for a late night supper, a bottle of Prevost Rose Fac-Simile, a bottle of 2012 De Montille Pommard Rugiens and a 2007 L-M Liger Belair Vosne Romanee 1er Cru “Reignots”. Quite a night!

Not bad for a quick week in Beaune!

Looking forward to the week ahead in San Francisco- January 28th, 2019

Friends of Flatiron,

While the rest of the country freezes we’ve got some rainy whether to contend with. Dry off and toast to friends and loved ones that are living a sub-zero life with us this week and check out our tastings and newsletter offers. No doubt everyone will be feeling sunnier with something special in their glass.

In-Store Tastings:

Wednesday 1/30, Tasting with Henry Wine Group at 5pm: Henry Wine Group brings us a whole host of outstanding wines that we’ve been proud to carry for years. Join us for a Cal/Ital mashup tasting with wines from Terredora Dipaolo, Thomas Fogarty, Cantele and Titus. $5/tasting 

Thursday 1/31, Meet the Winemaker: Matthew Rorick from Forlorn Hope 5pm: Fans of contrarian Californian wines will rejoice in tasting any one of Matthew Rorick’s Rare Creatures. That’s what they call their wines at Forlorn Hope and they are rare creatures indeed! Rorick uses obscure grape varieties and a full spectrum of noninterventionist techniques to create his unique wines. Come join us for a tasting of a selection of his fabled ferments. $5/tasting

In our weekly newsletter we’ve got the 2017 releases from Daniel Bouland, a master of Gamay in Morgon, the Cote-de-Brouilly and Chiroubles, unparalleled cognacs from single-estate producer Fanny Fougerat, the 2015 Rosso from timeless Alto Piemonte producer ARPEPE and, something truly special, a selection of wines from Loire cult favorite Domaine Guiberteau. These are truly special offerings that no one should miss out on.

Cheers!

Your Friends at Flatiron Wines SF

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