A Simple Guide to German Riesling: Flatiron Wines’ German Riesling 101

This week Riesling is the talk of the town. In conjunction with Rieslingfeier this weekend, we at Flatiron are embracing the opportunity to talk about one of the world’s favorite wines: German Riesling. Not everyone has been able to take a deep dive on Riesling, so our first post will give you the basics. Keep watching our site this week for a few more posts about Riesling. And, if you aren’t already, sign up for our newsletter so as not to miss out on the Rieslings we’re featuring at a deep discount.

Welcome to Riesling 101! 

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What is Riesling?

Riesling is a noble white grape that makes aromatic white wines.

Riesling grapes make a huge range of still, white wines ranging from bone-dry to unctuously sweet. Riesling is famously good at giving a taste of the terroir in which it is grown. So, for example, Riesling grown in France’s Alsace region will taste very different from Riesling grown in Germany.

Where does Riesling grow?

Riesling probably originated in Germany many centuries ago, but is grown today in much of the wine producing world, including: Germany, Austria, France, Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada.

What’s special about German Riesling?

No country focuses on Riesling like Germany. Top producers, top regions and top vineyards are all devoted to the grape. There are German Rieslings for everyone from the first-time wine drinker to the geekiest wine geek.

Is German Riesling Sweet?

Some German Rieslings are sweet, some are bone dry, and most fall somewhere in between.

How can I tell if a German Riesling is sweet or dry?

German labels can be a little confusing, but for a quick way to get a sense of whether a German Riesling is dry or sweet, just check out the alcohol level: the higher the alcohol, the drier the wines; the lower the alcohol, the sweeter.

So, if a wine’s alcohol is above, say, 12.5% or 13%, it’s dry. If it’s under about 11%, it will have at least a touch of sweetness.

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Now, if it’s in the middle, it can be tough to tell just how sweet a wine is. It will really help to know just a few German words to look out for, starting with Trocken, which is German for dry. Obviously, if you see Trocken on a Riesling label, the wine is dry. Likewise, any wine that says Grosses Gewachs is dry.

There are also words that mean a wine is at least a tiny bit sweet, like Feinherb. Other words, like Spatlese and Auslese, usually mean that a wine is sweet–unless the label also says Trocken or  Grosses Gewachs — in which case it’s dry.

Why are alcohol and sugar levels inversely related? Because you make alcohol in wine by letting yeasts convert sugar into alcohol and CO2. The more sugar the yeasts eat, the more alcohol they produce and the less sugar is left for the drinker.

What does German Riesling smell and taste like?

Many different things! Depending on where the German Riesling comes from and how ripe the grapes got, Riesling wines can have aromas and flavors ranging from (on the less ripe end) lime and other citrus, through apple-y flavors, all the way to stone fruit and even tropical aromas (at the riper end).

Germany’s best rieslings grow on very stony sites and are famous for also having intense mineral notes.

As Riesling ages, it develops complex flavors including a signature “petrol” note.

Why are German Rieslings so diverse?

The world’s greatest grapes taste different depending on where they’re grown. Factors like the kind of soils the vines grow in, the altitude, climate and exposition all make the final product taste a little different. That’s why Pinot Noir tastes very different when it’s grown in California than in Burgundy’s Vosne Romanee.

The name for the factors that contribute to these unique tastes is “terroir.” No grape does a better job than Riesling of tasting like the particular terroir in which it was grown. Wine geeks call grapes that do this “terroir-transparent.” Riesling is very terroir-transparent.

German Riesling is very diverse for two reasons. First, because German Riesling grows in some very diverse terroirs, and because Riesling is so terroir-transparent, wines from different regions will taste distinct. Second, because German Riesling is made in many different styles and ripeness levels, you can find German Rieslings of many different sweetness levels.

Is German Riesling expensive?

Not for what you get! In fact, German Rieslings offer some of the best values in the world of wine.

It’s true some German Rieslings are super expensive. But they’re rare, even though back in the day, German Rieslings were as expensive and sought-after as the very best Burgundies.

That’s just not the case anymore. The wines are out of fashion, which means they offer great values. You can find bottles under $40 dollars that offer the kind of complexity, intellectual excitement and straight-up deliciousness that would cost way more than three times that if you were buying Burgundy.

But look out: fashions change… and this one is changing fast! German wines are more and more talked about among wine geeks and tastemakers in the restaurant and culinary worlds. Already, top producers that we used to be able to stock year-round are now entirely pre-sold. Prices are creeping up.

It’s a great time to buy German Riesling, but the value window may close soon.

Can I drink German Riesling with Food?

Absolutely! It’s one of the best wines for food. No wine is better suited to a wide variety of hard-to-pair foods, from traditional German pork products, to complex Asian dishes and the modern haut cuisines blending of the two with novel techniques. German wines elevate the dinner as they enrapture the diner.

Dry examples are great substitutes for Sancerre or other crisp, dry whites. A fine glass of Trocken Riesling can enliven any simple fish dish. But Riesling’s real magical culinary powers come out when you look at hard-to-pair foods, especially spicy ones like Thai or Chinese.

The spice and sugar in those foods can make red wines taste austere or metallic, and dry white wines sour or just washed out. Rieslings with a bit of sugar will stand up to the sweetness and even temper the heat. The mineral cut and bracing acidity are like a squeeze of lime on southeast asian food, bringing out details and making you want more all the time.

You need to try it to believe it!

Do vintages in Germany matter?

Yes, but with a run of great vintages from 2015-2018, there’s all kinds of great stuff to chose from.

Give it to me straight: Why should I care about German Riesling?

  • Incredible values.
  • Delicious wines with a unique and ancient history.
  • Terroir-transparent wines expressing varied and unique sites
  • An incredible string of vintages from 2015, 2016, 2017 and, now, 2018
  • One of the most perfect food wines imaginable; wines that pair with everything from classic French food to spicy Asian cuisines.

Is German Riesling complicated to understand?

We’re going to make it simple for you! A deep dive into the intricacies of German wine can be complicated, but the basics aren’t that hard to wrap your head around. Over the next few blog posts we’ll show you how.

Keys to understanding German Riesling:

  • Regions. Germany is a country of wine regions. France has Bordeaux, Burgundy etc., and Germany has:
    • The Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz and Rhenheissen (and many more!)
  • Sweetness/Ripeness. Unlike France or Italy (or most wine countries) German wines from a single vineyard can run the gamut from bone-dry to unctuously sweet. German wine laws have categories (e.g. Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese) to help you understand what’s in a bottle.
  • Producers. Germany has generations-old wineries (and winemakers) preserving ancient traditions. But it has also enjoyed an explosion of interest among super-talented young winemakers who are rediscovering old traditions and terroirs, as well as breaking new ground in response to changing circumstances (including global warming).

Looking forward to the week ahead in San Francisco, January 14th, 2019

Friends of Flatiron,

If the weather starts getting you down this week, fear not. We’ve got some tasty wines lined up for you to enjoy at the store and available for you in our newsletter. Here’s what we have planned this week:

In-Store Tastings:

Wednesday 1/16, Portuguese wine tasting with Obrigado Vinhos at 5pm: Already a legend in the modern Spanish wine industry, Patrick Mata took a bold step in 2010 when he founded Obrigado Vinhos, a truly comprehensive and game-changing Portuguese wine company. From Alentejo to Vinho Verde, Obrigado Vinhos represents some of the finest Portuguese wine makers. Join us for a tasting of a selection of sensational Iberian wines. $10/tasting 

Friday 1/18, Natural wine tasting with Amy Atwood Selections at 5pm: There’s a woman taking the American natural wine movement by storm and her name is Amy Atwood. Not only is she the winemaker for Oeno Wines, but she also created a company that represents some of the coolest natural small producers around. Donkey & Goat, Cruz and Dirty & Rowdy all work with her plus MANY more. Come taste a selection of wines from the portfolio for a truly natty experience. $10/tasting

In our weekly newsletter lovers of tasty and non-interventionist Beaujolais will rejoice with an offering of wines from Marcel Lapierre. For something a little closer to home we also be featuring the fascinating wines of Thomas Fogarty based in the Santa Cruz Mountains. However if you’re craving something a little more muscular we’ve got a deal on the 2016 vintage from Domaine Saint-Damien that you simply cannot miss.

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. 😉

Where to Search for your Reasonable Cellar in 2019

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In his January 7, 2019 blog post, Jeff reviewed the concept of the Reasonable Cellar and his approach to buying and cellaring wine. Today he offers some more specific suggestions as to how to apply this strategy.

While shopping for your Reasonable Cellar does not involve the painful process of chasing scarce allocations, it does allow for the fun of figuring out what exactly makes good, cellar-worthy values. It’s something that changes all the time, as vintages come and go, new producers emerge on the scene, and old producers retire, lose their holdings, change their style, or whatever. Here are a few ideas for 2019.


 

Loire

If I had to pick one single place on Earth to source wines for the Reasonable Cellar in 2019, it would be the Loire. This, of course, has not been a secret for long, as for many years people have been touting the exceptional values — both red and white — offered here from Muscadet all the way to Sancerre. But two things are a little different in 2019. Just a few years ago, the wines in the marketplace came from 2011, 2012 and 2013, all weak vintages. Now, virtually everything available comes from 2014, 2015, 2016 or 2017 — a string of four very strong vintages! You almost can’t go wrong, as long as you stick to artisanal producers and stay away from the industrial brands.

The other important thing to realize in 2019 is that the secret is finally starting to get out. We have now seen two Loire producers reach off-the-charts cult-popularity: Clos Rougeard and Vatan. Additionally, we have seen a small handful of Chenin Blanc producers earning unicorn-like reverence. It is inevitable that other producers will soon follow. It’s impossible to predict which — we recommend just buying wines and producers you like for as long as you can afford them. And watch this space for a thorough guide to Loire Valley wines later this year.

Beaujolais

Beaujolais is another region that seems to perennially provide value. Yes, the region now has superstars, and wines that are allocated far too strictly — Metras and Foillard, for example — but even those wines are rarely above $50 and we were able to offer both wines in our newsletter in 2018 (we’ll see how much we can land in 2019!). Definitely keep buying your favorites, as the prices have barely budged over the years — producers like Clos de Roilette, Dutraive and Bouland. But, be careful not to miss out on new producers, as this is neighborhood where vineyard land remains affordable enough that talented and ambitious young folk can actually get their hands on excellent terroirs. Sunier and Mee Godard both come to mind.

Beaujolais is great in the Reasonable Cellar not just because it is inexpensive but also because it ages quickly — most hit their peak at age five or so — and offers a really interesting range of terroirs, all with their own nuances, and all very visible because the wines are all produced with the same grape. Check out our guide to the Crus of Beaujolais here — hopefully we’ll get to updating that this year.

Piedmont

This is a tough one, because Piedmont seems to be affected more by global warming than most of our other favorite regions, and yet, well, it really is one of our favorite regions and we can’t leave it off a list like this! 2015, 2017 and 2018 were probably all too warm to produce much in the way of classical Nebbiolo, sadly, although of course there will still be plenty of tasty wine. 2014 was also a poor vintage in Barolo because of rain.

So what to do? Two things. One is obvious: focus on the two monumentally great vintages that are on the market, 2013 and 2016. Most 2013s have come and gone, and unfortunately most of what’s left is outside of the Reasonable Cellar budget. But keep your eyes peeled, because we are going to do our best to uncover a few opportunities in the next few months. As for 2016, the trick is to look at non-Barolos. Barbera, Freisa, and Nebbiolo d’Alba from many great producers are all coming online now. We will start to see Barbarescos this year. Do not miss them!

The other opportunity is in the “off” vintage of 2014. People don’t realize yet that, despite the problems in Barolo,  it is in fact pretty awesome in Barbaresco. We have at least two 2014 Barbaresco opportunities in stock now at Reasonable Cellar pricing and we hope to uncover more this year.

Bordeaux

In Bordeaux, you finally have two great vintages after years of problems: 2015 and 2016. Find wines from small artisanal producers that don’t really change their prices from vintage to vintage like is true for the big guys that deal with negociants. If you want to stick to Grand Cru Classees, then sorry, those vintages are going to be very expensive. But vintages like 2014 and 2011 offer good value, and we continue to find opportunities in back vintages like 2008, 2006 and 2004. Meanwhile, there is a whole world of value from not-so-famous Right Bank terroirs like Fronsac and the Castillon. Do not make the mistake of lumping all of Bordeaux all in the “lux” category and missing out on the amazing values from those regions!

California

Despite global warming and terrible forest fires, California has pulled off a series of truly fantastic vintages. At the same time, the wines that are emblematic of “New California” have become so mainstream that I am probably considered silly by many observers just for using the term. Taken together, we are truly in a new Golden Era for California, not seen since the 1970s. The problem is prices, of course, but even here we are seeing break-throughs, as it is increasingly being recognized that artisans need to produce the lighter, drinkable wines that are so easy to find in Europe at the $20 price point.

But this is still a challenging area for folks who want to keep a Reasonable Cellar. Look for opportunities in less heralded grapes like Zinfandel or Valdiguié. Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Syrah are sadly really tough, though here and there we’re able to find something. Our big advice for 2019? Go for Chardonnay. Californians are increasingly producing this grape in a more restrained, reductive–even Chabli-like–style that holds well in a cellar, and the pricing is for the most part still reasonable. And I have still never come across a pre-moxed Californian Chardonnay!

Tuscany

Like Beaujolais, Tuscany — and for now I am focusing mostly on Chianti — is a region that seems to perennially earn a spot on this list. No matter how good the wines they produce,, no matter how great the vintages, the price of Chianti does not seem to increase that much. My absolute favorite purchase in 2018 was the regular Classico from Castell’in Villa. Under $30, and I am very confident that it will give me enormous pleasure over the next 15 years. I cellared a full case; I wish I had cellared two or even three. That’s gone now, but folks are releasing Chiantis from 2015 and 2016 right now, and they are also great vintages.

The wines may not quite have the easy drinkability of Beaujolais, but on average they hold better in the cellar. And they are just so…satisfying! Stock up while this opportunity lasts, though honestly the price has stayed so stable for so long that it’s hard to imagine the opportunity expiring any time soon.

Campania

It’s no fun just having all the usual obvious regions on this list every time I put it out, so every time I make sure to add something new. I can’t believe I haven’t talked more about Campania in the past. I drink it at home all the time. I have cases and cases of Aglianico in my Reasonable Cellar, plus a bit of Fiano. The signature wine of the region — Mastroberardino’s Taurasi — is still only about $50 on release, and there are plenty of equally great wines from lesser DOC’s that cost less. This is an area — like Saumur in the Loire or Sicily’s Mount Etna — where I sense something really special is happening and it frankly reminds me of where the Northern Rhone was five or ten years ago. Pay attention!

Northwest Spain

Galicia, like a few other regions on this list — the Loire mostly, but also California and Campania — succeeds at providing obvious candidates for the Reasonable Cellar that are both red and white. They are blessed with wonderful grape varieties like Mencia, Albarino, Treixadura and Godello. They have some pretty crazy terroir, with awfully steep vineyards, and a wide variety of minerals in the soils underneath. They have vines going back 60-70 years and even further. They have, like Saumur, a lot of newish producers who understand the specialness of all these assets, and are trying to show them off to the world with traditional, non-manipulative methods. Like Campania, I think this is a region that is sneaking up on us and could really break out in the next year or two.

Rieslings

The best Rieslings from Germany, Austria and Alsace are already beyond the Reasonable Cellar budget. But it is still shocking how much great Riesling is produced in these regions that costs less than $40, or even less than $25. We sold Kabinetts from J. J. Prum for less than $40 in 2018, and these were so obviously great wines that will improve for five years or more in the cellar. There are so many other producers out there like that. Maybe the GGs from Donnhoff are now a little out of reach, but he has a wide range of incredibly delicious wines that are easily obtainable for under $35. This is very different from the situation in, say, Burgundy, where a Donnhoff analogy — Mugnier? — has become totally impossible for regular wine buyers.

Germany, in particular, has had a very good string of vintages. You can’t go wrong with 2015s, 2016s or 2017s. I haven’t tasted yet, but I understand the 2018s are also likely to be very good. Prices are going up, and this does not seem to be a situation like Chianti where you can always count on the prices staying moderate. A lot of good wines have already gone north of $50 and we think this trend will continue, partly because the Germans themselves recognize how special their wines are and they buy most of then locally. Until they do, you should keep stocking up.

Edges of Burgundy

Burgundy epitomizes all that is good and all that is bad in the wine world. The bad? You can’t find or afford wines from the most famous producers. Sorry, that game ended over ten years ago when the 2005s were released. Top Burgundy officially became unReasonable.

So why is Burgundy on this list? Because of the good. Because of the Edges. The Edges of Burgundy are all the villages of Burgundy that produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that would be considered world-class were they in any part of the world other than Burgundy, but that happen to be in Burgundy and therefore are completely over-shadowed by villages like Vosne Romanee and Puligny Montrachet. I’m talking about places like St. Aubin, Fixin and Mercurey. There are plenty more — I wrote a whole series of blog posts about them!

But I bring this up now because finally Burgundy has a string of really good vintages including one — 2017 — that actually produced a good quantity of high quality wine in both red and white. Buy plenty of Chablis, Rully, and Auxey Duresses in 2019, and you won’t regret it.


 

We will kick off your Reasonable Cellar buying tomorrow with a special offering of 30+ wines that all make great candidates. Make sure you are signed up to our newsletter.

 

Looking forward to the week ahead in San Francisco, January 8th, 2019

Friends of Flatiron,

We hope everyone had an amazing New Years! Hopefully you haven’t done anything crazy like make a resolution to swear off drinking or anything like that. Here’s what’s in store to convince you to keep your January as wet as the weather.

In-Store Tastings:

Thursday 1/10, Tasting with Frenchtown Farms at 5pm: Aaron and Cara Mockrish quickly became one of North Yuba County’s rising stars when they established Frenchtown Farms. Under the tutelage of Gideon Beinstock, of Clos Saron fame, and with fruit from the vineyards of the inactive Renaissance Winery it’s easy to understand why. Join us for a tasting of their wines. $10/tasting 

In our weekly newsletter we’ll be featuring a selection of Burgundies from Michel Gros from the 2016 vintage, the must-have Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Cruz Valley icon Thomas Fogarty and a truly classic Alsatian Pinot Gris from Famille Hugel.

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. 😉

The Return of the Reasonable Cellar

 

IMG_1088The Return of the Reasonable Cellar

Around the beginning of each year, we love to remind our customers and readers that maintaining a wine cellar doesn’t have to be an extravagance.

  • You don’t have to spend tons of money.
  • You don’t have to chase a small number of highly allocated trophies that are being sought by more and more millionaires and billionaires across the globe every year.
  • You don’t have to keep a cellar filled with wines that you never drink, because they aren’t quite ready yet or because you’re thinking about how much you could sell them for.

Instead, you can maintain what we’ve been calling for years the Reasonable Cellar.

What is a Reasonable Cellar?

We define it as a cellar filled with wines that cost less than $50 per bottle and that are likely to improve within just a few years of cellaring. They should be wines that can buy without having to fuss over tight allocations. The $50 cut-off is loose: we go a little bit above that for Champagne, and in fact most Reasonable Cellar wines are under $30!

The theory behind the Reasonable Cellar is simple: there are a lot of great, cellar-worthy wines out there that haven’t been hyped up to the point that they have become unReasonable. Take Clos Rougeard for example. It is a great wine, but so hyped up that it has become very expensive and very difficult to find. Meanwhile, there are half a dozen producers in Saumur — Rougeard’s home village — that produce wines that give you 95% of the pleasure that you’ll get from Clos Rougeard.

But is the price of those other producers 95% of what you’d pay for Rougeard? Of course not. It’s sometimes as little as 10%. Even the top producer in Saumur whose name isn’t Clos Rougeard — that would be Thierry Germain — makes a wine entirely from Les Poyeux that costs roughly 25% of Clos Rougeard’s. And you can buy the wine! As of this writing, there are 12 bottles sitting there in our stock for anyone to grab!

The objection I hear most often is that people want the best. I know the feeling, and when I have the opportunity to taste the best, I do take it. So often, the “best” is disappointing. At dinner the other night we opened a bottle of 1998 Les Cailles from Robert Chevillon. That’s a very sought-after cru from Nuits-St.-George’s “best” producer. Current releases cost around $130, and in top vintages you have to get in line for an allocation. The 1998 was good but not great. Frankly, everyone at the table had far more pleasure from a wine from our Reasonable Cellar that we also opened: a Brovia Barolo 2008 — just the normale, not one of the crus. That’s a wine we offered to our customers for $39.99 in an email offer just a few years ago. Hopefully, you bought a few bottles, because now they are just starting to open up beautifully!

Anyway, as we did at the beginning of last year, this week we’re going to help you start — or perhaps expand — your Reasonable Cellar. On Thursday, January 10 we will publish a blog post that will identify the best current opportunities for a Reasonable Cellar (good recent vintages in good regions where values abound). On Friday, January 11 we will send out an email putting 30-40 excellent candidates for the Reasonable Cellar on sale — Cru Beaujolais, non-classified Bordeaux, Saumur, Italian and Californian opportunities, Rieslings, and more. Discounts are pretty deep and last year this sale was extremely popular. Make sure that you are signed up for our newsletter (CLICK to subscribe!) and look for the email around lunch time in New York. The sale will go through the weekend until the end of day Sunday.

 

What to Drink this Weekend in San Francisco- Volume 2, Issue No. 6

Dear Friends of Flatiron,

I am compelled to write about what special wines I’ll be drinking over the Holidays as Christmas approaches despite the fact that you have, no doubt, already read a great deal on the topic. But what makes my musings a bit unusual is that this is my first time actually making such choices not just for myself. As a professional retailer, and someone who is loosely Jewish, I’ve always volunteered to work for my gentile co-workers on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day has always been a lazy day of watching movies (specifically Home Alone and Die Hard), drinking a nice red Burgundy and slowly devouring an entire Peking duck. Some may think that sounds lonely, but I love it. That being said, I am truly excited to be spending this Christmas with my wife’s family up in Napa. Here’s what I snagged from our shelves to share with my family during my first Christmas.

I’ll use any excuse to drink Champagne and Christmas is an easy one. My recommendation is to choose a Champagne that is a little rounder and fruitier so that it can easily be enjoyed with or without food. Lean Extra Brut wines can be a bit too sharp right off the bat and oxidative/savory versions might be a bit too esoteric for infrequent drinkers to fully enjoy without food. I’m bringing Jean Vesselle’s Brut Prestige Millesime 2008, a grower champagne from Bouzy. Made of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay and a dosage of 7 grams/L this is a perfectly fruity and floral champagne for everyone to enjoy. It’s filled with remarkable homey flavors of creamy lemon, cloves, cinnamon and wildflower honey and finishes silky with notes of raspberry and red apples.

We’re all traveling on Christmas Eve so we’re keeping dinner pretty simple with a casual make-your-own taco bar. This was always one of my favorite dinners when I was a kid. As an adult I’ve added Mezcal to the table as an essential fixture. I’m making a big batch of Palomas for a Mexican-inspired libation filled with local and deliciously ripe ruby red grapefruits and Cara cara Oranges. When we got the Mezcal from Verde Momento, which is the best value Mezcal I’ve ever come across, I knew this was something I had to make for the my family. This Mezcal is produced using 8 year old Espadin agave and roasted using three different types of wood. The smokiness is strong, but extremely pleasant with a musky grassy, peach pit quality that makes it great for cocktails. It also has a variety of quirky labels which make it a creative gift and affordable one at only $29.99.

Since our family isn’t bound by any particular tradition, on Christmas we’ll be feasting on dry-aged steaks and a version of potatoes au gratin that is truly an homage to the dairy gods. I’m going with a bottle of Francois Carillon Bourgogne Blanc 2016 for my white wine, a round and supple Chardonnay filled with flavors of candied citron, apple and distinct grilled pineapple note that doesn’t come across as over-oaked. For the red I chose a 2016 Rosso di Montalcino from Conti Costanti for the red. If Biondi-Santi is outside your price range, Conti Costanti is a great alternative. Their history in Montalcino dates back to 1555 and you can taste that fact in their wines. Their Rosso displays deeply pitched and brooding notes of leather and cigar box which often fools experts into thinking it’s a fully-fledged Brunello. This wine is young, but I’m going to decant it in the morning to let it open up.

But probably the most festive wine I’m bringing is a bottle of Palo Cortado sherry. The first one I ever had, Valdespino’s Calle Ponce Palo Cortado, immediately transported me to a warm antique rocking chair in front of crackling fireplace in my mind. Few wines can take you on a journey like this one, with flavors and scents ranging wildly from mushrooms, leather and tobacco to butterscotch, maple candy and dates. Our family eats ice cream by the bucket and this is a sensational wine to have with it, especially a really good vanilla version. Having something sweet and creamy in the background lifts all the nuanced flavors the wine has taken on from over 25 years of aging. Buy this for yourself as a Christmas treat.

Happy holidays to everyone!

Looking forward to the week ahead in San Francisco, December 17th, 2018

Friends of Flatiron,

We’re exactly one week out from Christmas Eve and two from New Years and the excitement is reaching a fever pitch! If you haven’t already fully loaded up on bottles from us yet then be sure to stop ASAP. For any of you last minute shoppers, here’s our Holiday Hours:

Christmas Eve: 9am-6pm
Christmas Day: Closed
New Year’s Eve: 9am-9pm
New Year’s Day: Closed

Here’s what we’ll be pouring in the store as well as what we’ll featuring in our newsletter this week:

In-Store Tastings:

Tuesday 12/18, Meet the Winemaker: Dan Petroski with Larkmead at 5pm: $10/tasting Established in 1895, Larkmead is as iconic of an estate as they come in Napa Valley. The vineyards they own are some of the most diverse geologically and topographically. That is exactly what famed winemaker Dan Petroski aims to capture in every bottle he crafts during his tenure. Join us for a memorable tasting with him and an array of Larkmead’s wines.

Wednesday 12/19, Tasting with Tess Bryant with Natural Australian wines at 5pm: If it’s been a minute since you’ve tried an Australian wine now is absolutely the time. Australia has gone through a natural wine revolution that has put it back on the radar of somms and wine geeks everywhere. Tess Bryant saw the writing on the wall as well and, in 2008, opened her own wine import company focusing on natural Aussie wines. Come and join us for an exciting tasting of the most exciting wines from Down Under. $10/tasting

Thursday 12/20, Tasting of California Reds for the Holidays at 5pm: Holiday wine choices can be tricky. That’s why we decided to put together a tasting of great California wines that we think are the best for your celebration. We’ll be tasting:

Occidental, Pinot Noir ‘Freestone’, 2016
Ramey, Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 2014
Chappellet, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Signature, 2016

This is your opportunity to try before you buy and, even better, it’s FREE!

Friday 12/21, Tasting of More Champagne at 5pm: In case you haven’t gotten your fill of Champagne tastings at the store the past few weeks here’s one more event to sate your thirst for bubbles. Come join us to taste the following Champagnes:

Janisson-Baradon, Champagne Brut Selection, NV
Paul Laurent, Champagne Brut, NV
Louis Roederer, Champagne Brut Premiere, NV

And guess what? This event is also FREE!

In our weekly newsletter we’ll be featuring a selection of library releases going back to the 1980’s from historic Chinon producer Couly-Dutheil, new releases from cult hero Giuseppe Quintarelli and Champagnes for the much sought after Cedric Bouchard.

Happy Holidays!

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, San Francisco- Volume 2, Issue No. 5

Dear Friends of Flatiron,

Last week we embarked on a journey through symbiotic pairings with umami-rich foods. For shellfish and crustaceans, flor is the way for me, but what about the “deeper” umami flavors found in things like black olives or in gamey meat dishes and heavily spiced legumes?  The answer for me is skin-contact wines.  Join me as we delve deeper into these persimmon-hued beauties and what makes them the perfect partners for some of the most notoriously challenging food pairings.

Called either orange, amber, skin-contact or ramato, these are wines that are made by fermenting grapes normally made into white wines on their skins. Just like over steeping green tea, which leads a darker and not-so-green beverage, keeping the grape skins in contact with the juice yields a deeper color in the resulting wine. In turn, these wines display the floral, citrus and orchard fruit qualities of white wines, but the textural qualities and savory notes of reds. They are perfect umami-pairing wines because they amplify the inner sweetness of meats like pork and lamb as well with cheese and mushrooms while also being able to stand up to bold spice flavors in Indian, Mexican, Asian and Caribbean cuisines.

Don’t, however, be fooled into thinking that skin-contact wines are a recent trend. The way these wines are made has been practiced continuously for over 10,000 years. Fermenting white wine grapes on their skins to achieve a deep rusty amber color is standard in the Republic of Georgia where the oldest evidence of winemaking can be found. In 2015, I was fortunate enough to go on a wine trip to Georgia and was astounded by the cuisine.  Gooey cheese filled breads, fenugreek-tinted meats and vegetables take center stage along with sauces thickened with ground walnuts and mushrooms submerged in garlic and butter.  I quickly discovered on this trip that the best pairing for these types of foods is the traditional amber skin-contact style of wine that Georgia is known for.

We recently got in the 2016 Kisi from Doqi, located in the Kakheti region. A combination of golden plum, dried apricot, chrysanthemum and hazelnut are given depth and texture from the tannins imparted from the prolonged skin-contact and from the mineral notes of the clay vessels the wine is fermented and aged in. I drank a bottle of this with some chaat I got from Indian Paradox, a fun and authentic street food inspired restaurant on Divisadero and Haight. The interplay of sweet, salty, sour and spicy of the food are echoed in the wine and bring out the more subtle spicing underneath the more dominating flavors.

Skin Contact Umami Wines

What is tradition in Georgia is avant-garde to the rest of the world. Skin-contact, orange, amber. Whatever you choose to call these wines, the name seems always to fail to fully capture what the wine itself expresses. Legendary wines have risen from Georgian-inspired techniques like those from Josko Gravner and Radikon. But they were just the beginning. Skin-contact wines can now be found all over the world and from grapes that have historically never been vinified in that way. The 2017 Marsanne from Oakstone Vineyard by Purity Wines is one such wine. It is a full and rich, ginger-colored wine full of lush flavors of macerated orange peel, walnuts and Indian spices. A wine like this sings with exotic flavors and is possibly the only truly great wine pairing I’ve ever had with spicy jerk chicken.

As wine styles across the globe become more and more diverse it’s clear that the idea that some foods just don’t go with wine is false. Something as ancient and omnipresent as wine has a place at the table with every flavor. Tastemakers just might not have found the right style yet. But lucky for us, winemakers are an adventurous bunch who are happy to try just about anything. Skin-contact style wines are only one of the newest trends to gain popularity, but all signs indicated that there is much more excitement to be expected in the future.

Cheers!

Looking forward to the week ahead in San Francisco- December 10th 2018

Friends of Flatiron,

With all the ugly sweaters and Santa-ware around it’s obvious that the parties are everywhere this year. Here too! Check out what we’re pouring in the store and featuring in our newsletter this week to get your party to the next level:

In-Store Tastings:

Tuesday 12/11, Meet the Winemaker: Chris Cottrell from Bedrock Winery at 5pm: From humble beginnings in a converted chicken coop, Bedrock Winery has risen in the ranks of new Californian wineries, celebrating and rehabilitating old vineyards and proselytizing Californian terroir via noninterventionalist winemaking. Join us for a fun and informative tasting with winemaker Chris Cottrell and taste an assortment of their wines. $10/tasting

Thursday 12/13, Tasting with Champagne Billecart-Salmon at 5pm:  When perusing a restaurant’s wine list, seeing Billecart-Salmon listed in their Champagne section is usually a solid indicator that Somm knows what they are doing. Always one of favorite houses, Billecart-Salmon is class incarnate. Taste with us a lineup of Champagnes that will not disappoint and stock up for the New Year and beyond! $10/tasting

Friday 12/14, Tasting with Champagne Dom Perignon and Champagne Ruinart at 5pm: Two legends that need little introduction come together in a single night of Champagne tasting! Come taste the 2006 vintage of the one and only Dom Perignon as well as Ruinart’s 2006 vintage along with their non-vintage Brut and Rose. $20/tasting

In our weekly newsletter we’ll be featuring two vintages Roagna Rosso, 2012 and 2013, which showcases delicious Nebbiolo from a classic producers. We will also be offering the 2017 vintage of Keller Riesling “Von der Fels” as well as wines from the fun and funky Californian producer Las Jaras. In addition to our weekly newsletter, we are also featuring an offer on the 2016 releases from Michel Lafarge and a not-to-be-missed special holiday spirits newsletter featuring a number of Flatiron single cask bourbon selections, rums from mythical rum-bottler Velier and, of course, a collection of rare whiskies you’ve all been waiting for (Pappy, Weller, Suntory and more!).

Cheers!

Your Friends at Flatiron Wines SF

Don’t want to miss az 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, San Francisco – Volume 2, Issue No. 4

Dear Friends of Flatiron,

I’ve had umami on my mind lately. It started when people began asking for pairings with cracked dungeness crab, a naturally rich source of umami.  The question seemed easy to most. And, it is, if what you’re going for is a nice contrast between the savory ocean-flavored quality of the crab with the bracingly mineral and citrus notes of a vermentino or albariño. But a great symbiotic pairing, one that meets those rich, brothy flavors beat for beat, is less obvious.  

Having now had a chance to reflect upon this more, if what you want is one of the best symbiotic umami pairings, you really need a wine that’s spent some time under a veil of top fermenting yeast commonly called flor

Umami Wines on a Window Sill

Usually found as part of the winemaking process of biologically-aged sherries or sous voile white wines from the Jura like Domaine de Montbourgeau’s l’Etoile Cuvée Espécial, flor is starting to be added to the stylistic palate of many avant-garde producers both here and abroad.  By utilizing this indigenous and spontaneously occurring collection of microorganisms winemakers are able to not just capture the essence of fruit and flowers, but also those deeper notes of salt, nuts, dried herbs, and even varnished wood. 

What resonates between these flavors and that of seafood is a combination of heightening some flavors and canceling out others. The sharp angles and salty quality of the food and wine are neutralized while the sweetness and somewhat bitter quality inherent in both are heightened.

These are the flavor experiences I love in pairing the Fino from Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, a perfectly balanced example of traditional biologically-aged sherry, with foods like shellfish and strongly flavored fin fish such as mackerel. The air around the bodega in Jerez smells like flor and salty ocean breeze, a quality reflected in all wines from this port city.  When paired with crab, oysters or sea urchin the flavors seem to open up completely leaving behind briny flavors and revealing a rich creamy sea-sweetness and earthy notes of the deep sea. Next time you go out to sushi take a bottle of sherry with you and get ready for a whole new experience.

Fernando de Castilla Fino

Of course flor aged wines aren’t the only wines that symbiotically pair with foods rich in umami. There are many different styles that work with savory flavors, not just clean up after them. But let’s take this one bite at a time and enjoy discovering what’s behind the veil of pairing seafood with wines aged under it.

Cheers!