Our Top 5 Newsletter Stories: 2019, In Review

Our Top 5 Newsletter Stories: 2019, In Review

Hi Friends, 

What follows is a list of our TOP FIVE wine stories from 2019! While these wines may no longer be available, we think the information is interesting enough that we wanted to make it available to you, in case you'd like to revisit, for instance, the Atlantic coasts of Spain or the mountains of northern Italy.

You can receive stories like this, right into your inbox, every week by subscribing to our newsletter (in NY here; in SF here). New York Magazine once called it "indispensable," and our whole mission with the newsletter is to provide you with the deepest possible discounts on the wines we find most essential, each week. We hope you are able to subscribe. More than that, we hope you are able to read and taste along with us! 

Happy Reading (and drinking!),

The Flatiron Team 

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Commando G: Magic in the Sierra De Gredos

Fernando Garcia and Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi have one weird trick for winemaking success in the Gredos: they hang out in the local taverns and drink beer with the village old-timers.

Why?

Because that’s how you find the great old vines, hidden in the nooks and crannies of this crazy-craggy, high-altitude mountain region. Those old-timers are the passionate keepers of the flame for some of Spain’s most fascinating vines, growing in some of the world’s most challenging terroirs to find. 

What is the Sierra de Gredos?  

The Sierra de Gredos is a Spanish mountain range, just west of Madrid. The low lands in that part of central Spain are hot. But high up in the mountains things are much cooler. Perfect for making delicate, refined wines. Gredos is a complex region, full of twisty valleys and rugged mountains making for lots of fascinating microclimates. The soils are perfect for wine too, with varying, mostly granitic mother rock. What’s more, many top spots were planted with bush-trained Garnacha vines generations ago. So, it seems like a dream of a wine region: old vines, amazing terroir, devoted growers.

So why isn’t the Gredos a famous wine region?

It’s funny, but there’s actually no Gredos wine region… legally speaking. The mountains straddle a few different provinces and, depending in which province your vines grow, you have to use one of many different (and fairly generic) denominations on your label. There’s just never before been a push to create an overarching wine region. Which means there’s been no real opportunity for growers to work together to build an international identity for their wines. So, while the best wines had a distinct and worthwhile personality, hardly anybody knew it.

Why are people talking about Gredos now?

A new generation of growers have devoted themselves to exploring and preserving the region’s great sites. Most famously, Comando G.

Which brings us back to drinking beer in the local taverns.

You see, the best sites were well-kept secrets. But Dani and Fernando spent time with the folks in the know. And eventually those folks got comfortable sharing some of their secrets with the youngsters. Dani and Fernando proved to be more than just good drinking buddies. They have taken incredible care of the vines they’ve “rediscovered” and made supremely elegant wines from them. Exactly the kind of wines that appeal to today’s consumers, especially those that are particularly food- and wine-obsessed . So now these are vineyards and wines that are whispered about, not in Spanish mountain taverns, but in wine bars and restaurants from Brooklyn to Paris to Tokyo. Not to mention on twitter and Instagram.

What are the wines like?

There’s variety, of course, with all those microclimates, varied soils and different producers. But Comando G really exemplifies the very best of what the Gredos have to offer.

  • First, the vines are old—some of them planted over a century ago. And they do what old vines do, transmitting their terroir with a high fidelity and giving the depth and concentration that can’t even be approximated through winemaking tricks.
  • Second, the altitude—the nice, cool weather—keeps the wines fresh and gives grapes an even, long growing season during which they can develop complex, subtle flavors. (In contrast, Grenache grown in the Spanish plains ripen quickly and furiously and can get very alcoholic. The acids in these wines tend to drop quickly and the grapes never get a chance to evolve.)

Fernando and Daniel have been partners for a decade, crafting wines of ethereal beauty from this amazing raw material. They specialize in Garnacha (aka Grenache). But their Garnacha is a totally different beast: instead of ramped up fruit and high alcohol, their wines are airy and silkily textured. They are high-altitude wines: remarkably floral, with notes of crushed rose petals and violets. There’s a magical aspect to mountain wines like theirs. 

How do they make wines that good?

We wish we knew! Even today, most of the grapes grown in the Gredos end up in local co-op wines that are anything but refined. But Dani and Fernando didn’t just dig deep into the hyper-local intricacies of their ancient vineyards and traditions. They also looked for inspiration outside of their native Spain. And like any Grenache fanatic, they looked first and foremost to Château Rayas. This isn’t to say that their wines are the Spanish Rayas or anything like that. Just that they have a similar ability to express their unique terroir in pure, almost ephemeral—but always elegant—ways. Just as Rayas is often described as the most Burgundian Chateauneuf, so Comando G is the most Burgundian of Spanish Garnachas.  These wines come and go very quickly. We always offer them first to our Newsletter subscribers (and often with special discounts). Click here to start receiving those special offers.

Comando G, “La Bruja de Rozas“, 2017 

Old vine Garnacha, grown at 3,000 feet asl, which preserves great freshness and acidity. Bright raspberry and rose petals.

Comando G, Rozas 1er Cru, 2017

Even older Garnacha, grown at even higher elevation, on 5 different plots. This has a fine tannin structure, and is inspired by the great wines of Burgundy (hence the name). So much minerality!

Daniel Landi, Las Uvas de La Ira Garnacha, 2016 

This is Daniel's family's label—they were among the first in the region to bottle their own wine, rather than sell it off to the aforementioned coops. Literally translated to the Grapes of Wrath, this wine is anything but wrathful. Rather, it's airy and complex, with crunchy red fruit and stony minerality.

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New Rhones: Barges' 2016 and 2017

"Classics in the making"
—John Gilman, A View from the Cellar

Lunch with Julien Barge makes you grateful for what you've got. Julien, of Côte Rôtie’s Domaine Gilles Barge, took a vacation to America last spring. He and his family stopped in New York to catch up with his importer, and a few of us joined them for lunch and to get a preview of the ’16 Côte Rôties and the ’17 Saint Joseph.  
 
Julien is that rare sort of French grower who can speak like a poet, theorize like a philosophe, and still answer direct questions with pithy precision. We were very excited to meet him. And, since it was his family’s first visit to New York, they were just as excited to be here. We had questions about the wine. They had questions about the city.
 
Domaine Gilles Barge is, of course, one of Côte Rôtie’s last true traditionalists and a favorite of John Gilman’s and John Livingston-Learmoth. The family never gave up whole-cluster fermentations and the old ways. They preserved the old knowledge, so when Julien says he uses stems, “except when he doesn’t,” you know there’s something to it.
 
These old school Northern Rhônes aren’t wines you can rush: they’re made to age. And yet, at lunch, after a few hours of slow exposure to air (Julien prefers slow aeration to a heavy decant, but a decanter will do in a pinch) they were just beautiful. The Plessy was deeply perfumed: mind-boggling aromatic complexity for the young age. The Crus were intense and spectacularly true to their terroirs. The St. Joseph had meat and old-school character, elegant fruit and a granite backbone.
 
Despite all their layered substance, these wines are fun to drink. And drinking them over lunch, chatting with Julien and family, was especially fun—a reminder of what wine is really about. 
Does he like natural wine? Sure, many great wines are natural, but sulfur isn’t the enemy. 
Does he like a long fermentation? Well, he’s not making Beaujolais. 
Has he always wanted to do single vineyard cuvées? After all, they’ve introduced a few over the last decade or so? Here he became more animated: Non. They are interesting and they happen for various reasons (his wife loves the Côte Blonde, so he made a small, separate bottling). But real Côte Rôtie is a blend. It’s a mix of the power of this site and the elegance of that; the spice here and the sweetness there. It’s like New York, he said: if it’s great it’s great because it’s a melting pot.
 
“Blending is good,” he said, “America is great.”
 
We couldn’t be more thrilled to offer Domaine Gilles Barges’ Saint Joseph Clos de la Ribaudy and Côte Rôtie, Cuvée du Plessy (the New York City of the Northern Rhone, apparently). We’ll offer the single cru wines next week to Rhone Subscribers. If you’d like to make sure you get that offer, please reply to this email. To get the best price, you can mix and match any Barge wines.

Domaine Gilles Barge, Saint-Joseph "Clos de la Ribaudy," 2017

We had a fish course at lunch and, even though the wine was young, it was fantastic with it: red and black fruits, a bit meaty and plenty of mineral. The structure was pronounced but didn't overwhelm the poisson: very fine acid, depth in the midpalate and remarkably elegant tannins. (Gilman wasn't given a sample and hasn't reviewed this wine yet, but he loved the '16, which he called "lovely," classic," "deep," "full," "balanced," "stony," etc.)

Domaine Gilles Barge, Cote Rotie "Cuvee du Plessy," 2016 

John Gilman: "most suave out of the blocks, offering up a superb and youthful bouquet of red and black raspberries, smoked meats, a touch of hazelnut, pepper, stony soil tones and a smoky topnote of bonfires. On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied, focused and beautifully transparent, with a good core, fine-grained tannins, good acids and excellent balance and grip on the long, nascently complex and really vibrant finish. This is old school Côte-Rôtie, as it comes in at a svelte 12.5 percent octane and is nicely structured and built for the long haul. It will be a dynamite and very elegant, middleweight example of Côte-Rôtie when it is ready to drink" 

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Albamar Albariño: Worth its Salt!

The ocean gives amazing things to a winemaker: salty ocean breezes, warm afternoons peeking out between cool mornings and evenings, a unique seashell-strewn minerality.

Just of the beaches on the Atlantic seaboard, the Alba family has been producing beautifully bright Albariño for decades. Their wines take advantage of everything the ocean has to give to Albariño. In fact, small, family-owned Bodegas Albamar shows just how much potential this union of terroir and variety has.

Xurxo Alba, who inherited vines from his father, harnesses Galicia’s unique terroir in a variety of ways. He uses only indigenous yeast—super-rare for the region—and encourages a long, slow fermentation. He blocks malolactic fermentation, to allow all the saline freshness and bright minerality to show through. Even their everyday wine, priced for weeknight drinking, is a joyful bottle of seaside terroir and Albariño character.

But their top Albariño cuvée, Alma de Mar—"Soul of the Sea,” in Spanish—is next level. It comes from a plot of vines a mere 50 meters from the sea; it's intensely saline and mineral. The vines grow on sand, obviously, with a deep core of clay. The vines don’t yield much, but what they do produce is deeply concentrated and richly textured.

This wine is so beloved that it usually doesn’t last very long on the shelf. If we’ve ever included it in a weekly newsletter it’s been a very long time. If you know Albamar, take this as an opportunity to stock up, with a discount. If you don’t know the gorgeous Galician wines of Bodegas Albamar, now’s your chance, with special newsletter-only pricing:

Albamar, Rias Baixas Albariño, 2018 

Here we have lightning in a bottle: mineral verve & tenacious salinity. Albamar’s take is elegant & cutting—dancing across the palate with electric ease. Clean, fresh, and wonderfully balanced.


Albamar, Albariño Rias Baixas "Alma de Mar", 2017 

Unmistakably saline, this is a seriously complex bottle. It displays the gorgeous white fruits and flowers of prime Albariño, alongside bright, zingy citrus notes. Lusciously long on the finish, this is a prime candidate for the reasonable cellar but will be equally pleasurable to drink this weekend. 

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What's Old is New Again with Glinavos' Vlahiko

Greece is a modern wine lover's treasure trove. It’s full of new (but actually quite old) grapes, many nearly extinct, from fascinating terroir just waiting to be (re)discovered. Its wine culture was exalted for millennia: the Greeks ferried vines and knowledge around the Mediterranean, even while the Romans got most of the credit, centuries later. But a long, slow decline in finances and population left much of Greek winemaking in a depressed state, of mostly bulk wine, bereft of place and character.

40 years ago Lefteris Glinavos looked around and saw an opportunity in his homeland, the remote, western, alpine hills of Zitsa. Nearly abandoned by its goat herder population, it was chock-full of the natural components for quality wine: stony limestone soils, high elevation, adequate rain, a long cool growing season, and distinctive grape varieties.

He knew he lacked sufficient knowledge and equipment to make the wines of his dreams. He took a leap and armed himself with an oenology degree from Bordeaux, one of the first Greeks to do so. He then built and outfitted a modern winemaking facility, with all the trappings we take for granted today: stainless steel tanks, temperature control, and French oak—all unheard of at the time.

Degree in hand, he could have followed the trends of the time: he could have ripped up indigenous vines, planted Cabernet Sauvignon, extracted it to death, in 100% new American oak, sprinkled with mega purple, doused in SO2 and probably won some accolades doing so. Instead, he mostly followed local traditions; just enough modern sensibility and technology were applied to create wines true to himself and his homeland. His influence was felt far and wide, and a slew of others followed suit.

Now his son Thomas runs the estate with the same thoughtful ethos. New wines made from ancient grapes, like Vlahiko, a sensitive and endangered varietal with only 3 hectares left in the world. His still red is one of just two produced from the grape, making it one of the rarest wines on earth, and one sip will have you scratching your head why. We bought the last of the 2016 with just enough to offer to you here today at a newsletter only price.

Domaine Glinavos, Vlahiko, 2016

Graphite, mushrooms and forest floor, attack before the fruit, orange peel and rose petals. Red cherries and blackberries, wild and ripe, rife with cooling acidity, and warm soft velvety tannin. This wine is a head scratcher, so complex and interesting, familiar yet totally new, not polished, yet not faulty. Strong and intense like its fighting its way out of the glass. It needs a short decant and older bottles have proven its cellar worthiness, stock up a few for now and a few for later.

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Colombera & Garella: Defenders of Alto Piemonte

"A minimalist aesthetic, really allows the personality of these sites to come through. Colombera & Garella is without questions one of the most exciting young wineries in Alto Piemonte." -- Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Alto Piemonte, a secret source of Nebbiolo for wine geeks, is finally getting its day in the sun. We've been drinking the unique, classic wines, often with a few years of bottle age, and easy to digest price tags, for years. What took the critics so long to turn their gaze on our secret honeypot?

It's the same story as most our favorite re-up-and-coming wine regions, i.e. Galacia, Greece and Burgenland. These once dominant wine centers were abandoned after a slew of misfortune: phylloxera (a vine destroying louse), two world wars, and a depression followed by a boom of factory jobs in the cities, left them in shambles. Young people moved away in droves, vineyards were abandoned and no investment was funneled to the few who stayed.

Vineyards in the A-P, thanks to those who've keep up the good fight, like Luigi Fernando in Carema, Sella in Bramterra, were nearly forgotten but not lost. Now the attention has swung towards a new generation of talent, like Roberto Conterno, who are "re-discovering" and investing in their resurrection.

Cristiano Garella is another of those talents who, like Salvo Foti in Sicily, consults and collaborates with contemporaries and old timers alike. Directing investment into vineyards, wineries and production, he's elevating the quality across the region. And along with grape growing partners Giacomo & Carlo Colombera, their wines are picture-perfect representations of the Alto Piemonte's varied terroirs.

An ideal combination of warm air from the plains, cool breezes from the Alps, well draining terraces and high elevation, set the stage for these beauties. But the volcanic soils are where the magic happens. They are much more acidic than the Langhe's soils, which makes for lower alcohol levels and gives the wines a whole variety of unique mineral notes as well, sometimes, as an almost sanguine irony undercurrent. Married to the floral aromatics and beautiful fruit, these are really special wines. They are not just "Barolo alternatives."

Two years ago, we hosted Cristiano Garella in the shop for a meet-the-winemaker tasting, he-and the wines-blew everyone away. We have just enough wine in stock to offer them to our Italy-only list. We included special discounts on a mix 4-pack of any of these wines. We hope you'll take advantage to explore the whole range.

Colombera & Garella, Coste della Sesia, 2018

Nebbiolo (70%) with some Croatina and Vespolina from yellow volcanic sands, this has the aromatics and elegance that are making the Alto Piemonte into a thing, and enough substance to pair with antipasti or light meats.

Colombera & Garella, Vespolina “Vispavola”, 2018

100% (40-50 year old) Vespolina from reddish brown volcanic sand soils, this is a perfect little pasta or pizza wine with red fruit and a glugable spirit. But it's Colombera & Garella, so it also has an elegance and mineral vein that you don't expect from a wine at this price. Great intro to what the unheralded grape can do.

Colombera & Garella, Bramaterra Cascina Cottignano, 2016

Nebbiolo (70%) with some Croatina and Vespolina growing in Bramaterra's red-brown volcanic sand soils. Though elegant and mineral, this is a deep and serious wine, with to go with baised meats, game or hearty roasts.

Colombera & Garella, Lessona Pizzaguerra, 2016

Lessona's yellow porphyritic soils are, like neighboring Bramaterra's, sandier than the rest of the Alto Piemonte and so the wines are more finely perfumed and more softly structured than, say, the austere Gattinaras from more purely volcanic soil. The 5% Vespolina adds aromatic spice of white pepper and green tea to this organically farmed beauty.

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